As part of a plan intended to make it easier for formerly incarcerated Americans to re-enter society successfully, President Obama will announce an executive order on Monday requiring federal employers to postpone asking job applicants about their criminal history until later in the application process. Nineteen states and more than 100 cities across the country have banned the box on government job applications that ask applicants if they've ever been convicted of a crime, and now the federal government is following suit. Singer-songwriter and prison reform activist John Legend called for President Obama to ban the box in on op-ed in TIME magazine last month, and now his wish has come true.
On top of advocating for the federal government to ban the box, Legend also wanted Congress to take more action to help the formerly incarcerated have more access to jobs, housing, and education. President Obama's plan, which will be announced at a treatment center in New Jersey, includes other ways to help Americans re-enter society after jail, including grants for school and housing, partnerships between towns and companies offering technological training and jobs, and more funding for legal aid programs and policies to help former inmates get public housing.
"Ban the Box" advocates have pushed for questions about criminal history to be removed from initial job applications because they make it much harder for formerly incarcerated Americans to get a job when they're released from jail — according to the Justice Department, between 60 and 75 percent of former inmates can't find jobs within their first year out of prison. When President Obama spoke to federal inmates about banning the box during a visit to a federal prison in July, he said: "If the disclosure of a criminal record happens later in a job application process, you're more likely to be hired."
Legend, who started the #FREEAMERICA criminal justice reform campaign, thinks banning the box is an extremely important aspect of prison reform. Here are five of his best quotes about banning the box.
On Second Chances
In his op-ed in TIME, Legend wrote:
The "Ban the Box" campaign, led in large part by formerly incarcerated people and their families, aims to give people with criminal records a fair shot at a second chance.
On Crime As A Last Option
In his op-ed, as well as in a video he posted on Facebook urging fans to sign a "Ban the Box" petition, Legend pointed out that crime is often a last resort for people. He said:
For the majority of people who have contact with the criminal justice system, crime is not a first choice but a last option. We can change those options by asking employers to choose the best candidates based on job skills and qualifications, instead of tossing their applications because of past convictions.
On Double Jeopardy
Legend's TIME article explained how employment barriers extend prisoners' sentences and create a cycle of crime:
The lifelong purgatory people with convictions face is a form of double jeopardy that never allows them or their families to finish serving their time. The inability of the formerly incarcerated to get a job after they have paid their debt perpetuates a cycle of crime and incarceration.
On How The Box Affects Everyone
He also believes discriminating against people with criminal records affects everyone, and wrote in his op-ed:
Prohibiting people from a fair shot at jobs, housing, education and civic participation means a weaker society for us all.
On Mass Incarceration
"Ban the Box" advocates often explain that the criminal history box needs to be removed from job applications because nearly one in three American adults today has a criminal record that would show up in a background check. Legend wrote about the huge number of incarcerated Americans in another op-ed for TIME about the war on drugs, and the problem crosses over to the "Ban the Box" issue as well. He wrote:
America, as more and more people are starting to realize, is indecently over-incarcerated. We lock up far more people per capita than any nation even close to our size: roughly 2.4 million men, women, and children. The financial toll of mass incarceration is irresponsible; the human toll is unconscionable.
Needless to say, Legend must be very pleased that President Obama is banning the box for federal employers.