Rhode Island May be Next to Pass “Ban The Box” Legislation

In a perfect employment situation for a former convict, a company looking at his application would conduct a background check first and then, if his past crimes are irrelevant to the job description, make a hire on his skills. Instead, a common although illegal practice is asking about criminal history upfront and then eliminating all applicants who check off the box. This practice not only makes establishing oneself after incarceration a practically impossible task, it further makes former criminals end up in jail again and disproportionately affects minorities.

As a result, Rep. Scott Slater in Rhode Island recently proposed statewide “ban the box” legislation. Rhode Island employers would no longer be allowed to include the criminal history box on applications and could not examine a candidate’s criminal history early on in the application process. Both private and public sector employees would be affected by the measure.

Slater explained his reasoning, calling it: “a chance to be considered on their qualifications, not immediately rejected from consideration because of a wrong decision in their past for which they have paid their debt to society.”

While Slater and other supporters see this “ban the box” effort, which is already active in Providence, as a must for helping former criminals lead a productive life, opponents consider it a greater liability for employers. One misperception circulating around is that employers would be forced to hire felons. Per the recent EEOC recommendations, however, applicants with criminal history related to the job description (a history of abuse when applied to a caretaking or teaching job, for instance) are disqualified. Employers, as well, will have the chance to conduct background checks, but only when the candidate, regardless of criminal history, has a greater chance of employment.

What’s your take on “ban the box” laws? Should more cities and towns have them, in order to help former criminals lead more productive lives, or are they a lawsuit waiting to happen for an employer?

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