Friday, November 1, 2013

Banned Boxes: No More Criminal History Questions for Job Applicants?

Target recently became part of the “ban the box” movement, announcing that it won’t include criminal history questions in job applications. The second-biggest retailer in the country (behind Wal-Mart) is getting out in front of a Minnesota law that will take effect next year—the statute bans employers from asking about criminal records until the interview stage of the hiring process. (Target’s headquarters are in the North Star State.)

California is another newly minted member of the ban-the-box club; it joins the growing list of state and local governments that won’t allow employers to inquire into criminal history until applicants have had a chance to get their feet in the door.

There’s so much to complain about in the criminal justice world these days that it’s nice to take a moment to appreciate a progressive development. The decades-long trend would seem to argue in favor of blocking social reintegration for people who’ve had brushes with the law. (Prison overcrowding and mugshot posting are certainly consistent with the lock-’em-up/write-’em-off attitude.) So, it’s nice to hand out praise where it’s due.

Of course, the fact that employers may still delve into certain kinds of arrests and convictions is disheartening for those who are trying to “break good.” But at least they’ll now get a chance to be judged by their training, experience, and demeanor before their rap sheets. And there are still ways for some ex-defendants to sanitize their records, not to mention proscriptions on the kinds of encounters with law enforcement that employers can ever ask about.