California poised for major change in fair employment law

The California legislature has approved, and sent to the governor’s desk for signature, a bill that would dramatically expand protections for people with a criminal record under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).  Currently FEHA bars only discrimination that has a racially disparate effect.  If signed by the governor as expected, the new law will independently prohibit discrimination based on criminal record by most public and private employers, subject to FEHA’s administrative enforcement scheme. California will become only the fourth state in the country to extend the full protections of its fair employment law to individuals with a criminal record.  (The others are New York, Wisconsin, and Hawaii).  Read more

“Back to Business” – A report on fair chance hiring policies

A new report examines successful efforts by corporations and government leaders to promote “fair chance” hiring policies for people with criminal histories.  Back to Business: How Hiring Formerly Incarcerated Job Seekers Benefits Your Company reviews the latest research on the effect of a criminal record on employment interviews and on the job performance of workers with such records.  The report summary continues:

Several case studies presented here show how fair chance policies can promote loyalty and stability in the labor pool. The report provides a roadmap for businesses seeking to create and sustain fair chance policies, including “banning the box,” or removing criminal history questions from job applications. It explains how hiring officers can effectively carry out this policy, and how to choose background check companies that use best practices in data collection. It analyzes racial bias that has been connected with “ban the box” policies, and how to eliminate such bias by training administrators involved in hiring processes. The report also outlines compliance requirements with federal equal employment rules as they apply to people with criminal records. And it examines the issue of negligent hiring liability and how to avoid such liability. Education is critical to job readiness, employee retention, and economic mobility. The costs of re-incarceration far exceed the costs of correctional education, and access to training and higher education have been shown to reduce recidivism and increase the likelihood of employment upon release. One case study describes how one college is developing inprison education programs under a federal pilot program and offers a model for making correctional education scalable. The report examines how partnering with workforce training and development programs can help employers succeed with employees who have been in prison. Many workforce development agencies offer training and counseling tailored to help these individuals transition into jobs. Lastly, the report provides recommended actions that businesses can take to create a fair chance for all.

The report was prepared by the Trone Private Sector and Education Advisory Council to the American Civil Liberties Union, with its partner organizations the Legal Action Center, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the National Workrights Institute. 

SUNY bans the box on admissions application

On September 14, the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY), the nation’s largest comprehensive university system, voted to ban the box in its admissions process.  It is the first university system in the country to reverse its decision to engage in criminal history screening and remove the question from its admissions application.

The resolution laying out the policy change references the advocacy of the Education From the Inside Out (EIO) Coalition, including a 2015 case study of SUNY conducted by the Center for Community Alternatives, “Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition.”  That study found that about two-thirds of the nearly 3,000 SUNY applicants who disclose a felony conviction each year do not complete the application process (compared to only 21 percent of the overall pool of applicants) and thus are never considered for admission.  It concluded that this is the result of the daunting – and sometimes impossible – supplemental process triggered by that disclosure as well as the stigmatizing nature of the inquiry itself.

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“Racial profiling in hiring: A critique of new ban-the-box studies”

In June we covered two recent studies that concluded ban-the-box policies tend to decrease minority hiring because some employers use race as a proxy for criminal history.  In other words, in the absence of information about applicants’ criminal history, some employers assume that minority applicants have a record and exclude them on this assumption.  The result is that ban-the-box policies increase opportunities for whites with a criminal record but decrease them overall for minorities, and thus encourage unlawful discrimination.  Some observers, including one of the study authors, advocated for the repeal of ban-the-box policies based on those conclusions.  Last week, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) published a critique of those studies, pointing out that any adverse effect on racial minorities is ultimately the product of unlawful discrimination barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, not banning the box.  In NELP’s view, the solution is “a robust reform agenda that creates jobs for people with records and dismantles racism in the hiring process, not [rolling] back the clock on ban-the-box.”  We republish the summary and introduction of NELP’s critique below.  


 

Two recent studies claim that “ban the box” policies enacted around the country detrimentally affect the employment of young men of color who do not have a conviction record.  One of the authors has boldly argued that the policy should be abandoned outright because it “does more harm than good.” It’s the wrong conclusion.  The nation cannot afford to turn back the clock on a decade of reform that has created significant job opportunities for people with records.  These studies require exacting scrutiny to ensure that they are not irresponsibly seized upon at a critical time when the nation is being challenged to confront its painful legacy of structural discrimination and criminalization of people of color.

Our review of the studies leads us to these top-line conclusions: (1) The core problem raised by the studies is not ban-the-box but entrenched racism in the hiring process, which manifests as racial profiling of African Americans as “criminals.”  (2) Ban-the-box is working, both by increasing employment opportunities for people with records and by changing employer attitudes toward hiring people with records.  (3) When closely scrutinized, the new studies do not support the conclusion that ban-the-box policies are responsible for the depressed hiring of African Americans.  (4) The studies highlight the need for a more robust policy response to both boost job opportunities for people with records and tackle race discrimination in the hiring process—not a repeal of ban-the-box laws.

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Do ban-the-box policies increase racial discrimination in hiring?

Update: The National Employment Law Project has responded to these studies with a critique that we cover here.

Ban-the-box policies have become popular in recent years as a way of minimizing discrimination based on criminal history, and have been adopted by 24 states, the federal government, and a number private companies. But until recently there has been little hard data available about the general effect of those policies on employment opportunities.  A number of recent studies have begun to fill that gap, and the results have been disturbing. The consensus seems to be that while banning the box does enhance the employment prospects of those with criminal records, it also encourages employers to fall back on more general racial stereotypes about criminal history without the “box” to confirm or deny it.

Most recently, a multi-year field study by Amanda Agan (Princeton University) and Sonja Starr (University of Michigan Law School) found that although banning the box made it more likely that individuals with criminal records would receive call-backs from prospective employers, it dramatically increased the gap in call-backs between black and white applicants. Employer responses to over 15,000 fictitious job applications sent to New York and New Jersey employers after ban-the-box policies took effect showed that black applicants received 45% fewer callbacks than white applicants, up from a 7% differential before the new policy took effect:

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Feds nudge colleges to go “beyond the box”

1024px-US-DeptOfEducation-Seal.svgThe Department of Education (DOE) is asking colleges and universities to reconsider the use of criminal record inquiries on admissions applications in a new report released on Monday. The report, Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice-Involved Individuals, looks at how broad inquiries into applicants’ criminal histories may deter people with criminal records from applying for post-secondary educational opportunities.  It also suggests steps schools can take to ensure that their admission processes promote second chances for qualified applicants with criminal records, including banning the box on initial applications.

According to the report, “A survey of postsecondary institutions found that 66 percent of them collect CJI [criminal justice information] for all prospective students, and another 5 percent request CJI only for some students.”   The Common Application, a uniform application used by nearly 700 schools, has since 2006 asked whether a person has been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, “or other crime.”   Some schools that use the Common Application allow applicants to opt out of disclosure, or delay criminal history inquiries until a preliminary admissions decision has been made.  Other schools use their own non-standard applications which may require disclosure of convictions, arrests, or mere allegations of misconduct.

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Vermont becomes 8th state to ban the box in private employment

Cherry_Blossoms_and_Washington_MonumentStarting next summer, private as well as public employers in Vermont will no longer be permitted to ask about a job applicant’s criminal history on an initial employment application.  The change comes with the enactment of House Bill 261, which Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law yesterday.  With the law’s enactment, Vermont becomes just the eighth state to ban the box in private employment.  When CCRC Board Chair Rich Cassidy testified in favor of the provision before the Vermont legislature, he emphasized the importance of extending the prohibition to private employers.

In a signing ceremony, Governor Shumlin, who last year issued an executive order banning the box in public employment, had the following to say about the new law’s significance:

Too many Vermonters with criminal records are unable to successfully re-enter their communities due to lack of employment. Banning the box is all about breaking down barriers and giving those Vermonters who have paid their debt to society a fair chance at finding a good job. Nobody wins when Vermonters are trapped in a cycle of unemployment and incarceration.

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Will Prez Obama make federal contractors ban the box? [Update: Not now.]

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Updated April 29:

According to comments late this week from senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, the President remains inclined to defer to Congress when it comes to making federal contractors ban the box:

Asked whether there was consideration of whether to take action to require federal contractors to “ban the box,” Jarrett said, “The president has supported federal legislation that would ban the box for federal contractors. He thinks that’s the best approach.”

The legislation in question appears to have stalled, as noted by its sponsor Rep. Elijah Cummings.  (In a tweet, Jarrett pointed advocates to a 2013 directive of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance reminding contractors of their obligation to comply with the EEOC guidance on criminal records.)

On the other hand, on Friday the administration made good on its November promise to require federal agencies to ban the box, when OPM announced a proposed rule requiring federal agencies to postpone inquiry into an applicant’s criminal record until after a conditional offer of employment has been made.

Also, marking the end of National Reentry Week, the President formally established the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, a Cabinet-level working group dedicated to “the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals returning to their communities from prisons and jails.”  Originally convened by the Attorney General in 2011, the President’s action ensures that the Council will continue past the end of his Administration.

Original post from April 26:

As the White House inaugural National Reentry Week begins, advocacy organizations and Members of Congress are again calling on President Obama to use his executive authority to “ban the box” in federal contractor hiring, just as he announced he would do in federal agency hiring last November.

The call comes on the heels of a number of steps the Obama Administration has taken to improve the employment prospects of those with criminal histories, including the creation of the Fair Chance Business Pledge earlier this month.  Last fall, the President announced a number of additional reentry initiatives, including establishment of a Clean Slate Clearinghouse.  The President’s overall record on second-chance issues has been commendable, but he will have to move quickly to maximize his administration’s impact before the end of his term.

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President issues order announcing reentry initiatives

On November 2, the President issued an executive order announcing a series of steps to encourage reentry and rehabilitation of individuals who have recently been released from prison.  Among other things, the order establishes a National Clean Slate Clearinghouse, and authorizes technical assistance to legal aid programs and public defender offices “to build capacity for legal services needed to help with record-cleaning, expungement, and related civil legal services.”

According to an article in the New York Times, the measures

are all relatively modest in scale, important to the president less for their individual effect than for the direction they keep the country moving. Collectively, they reflect a belief that former inmates should have greater leeway to apply for jobs and housing without disclosing criminal records that would hinder their chances.

The order also calls on Congress to establish a ban-the-box program for federal employers and contractors.  In the interim, it asks the Office of Personnel Management to “take action where it can by modifying its rules to delay inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process.”  Presumably this means at a minimum that OPM should eliminate the criminal history question on its “Declaration for Federal Employment” form.  However, the order stops well short of recommending the more progressive steps proposed in a National Employment law Project report issued last January, including the revision of the federal “suitability” regulations to comply fully with the protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We will shortly take a closer look at this new federal initiative to blunt the impact of collateral consequences.  For now, we post the text of the entire order.  Read more

After prison, a lifetime of discrimination

The problem of mass incarceration was highlighted by the Pope’s visit last week to a Philadelphia jail, and by an HBO Special that aired earlier this week on the President’s visit last summer to a federal prison.  But the public has not yet had an occasion to focus on the broader and deeper problem of mass conviction that has consigned an entire generation of African American men to second class citizenship, and their communities to continued poverty and alienation.  The mere fact of a criminal record has placed a Mark of Cain on millions of Americans who never spent a day behind bars.

In this morning’s New York Times columnist David Brooks points out that the growth in state prison systems is driven by the sheer number of people prosecuted rather than sentence length, and he faults prosecutors for charging twice as many arrestees as in the past. But if it is true, as Brooks argues, that most people sent to prison nowadays spend about the same amount of time there as they did thirty years ago, the true crisis in our criminal justice system is represented by the lifetime of social marginalization and discrimination that follows them upon their release.

In New York, Governor Cuomo has taken important steps toward dealing with the problem of over-prosecution that looms large behind that of over-incarceration. It is time for elected leaders in other states to take similar steps, and time for President Obama to address the problem of collateral consequences for those with a federal conviction.  For example, in his conversations with federal inmates aired on HBO he spoke admiringly of ban-the-box programs.  It would be fitting if he implemented such a policy in the employment and contracting for which his Administration is responsible.  He might also consider pardoning deserving individuals,or supporting alternative relief mechanisms through the courts.  Hopefully in his final year he will turn his attention in that direction.

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