On Monday, President Obama announced an executive order that will make it easier for ex-convicts to find jobs. The "ban the box" initiative is named for the box, commonly found on job applications, that employers ask applicants to check if he or she has ever been convicted of a crime. Beginning immediately, employers will now receive that information after an interview. This "delay [of] inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process," Obama said, means employers will review candidates blind, thus preventing immediate hiring discrimination against former convicts. "Ban the box" will affect millions of people across the country — and not just the ex-cons themselves.
The move is part of an increased federal effort to ease former inmates' transition back to society. President Obama has made this issue one of his top priorities for his last year in the White House, and it's become one of the rare issues Republican and Democratic legislators have collaborated on in recent years. Obama made the "ban the box" announcement at a New Jersey drug treatment center to praise the work of Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who signed a similar bill on the state level last year. According to The Washington Post, 18 states and over 100 cities and counties already have "ban the box" laws in effect.
Although the law will directly affect hundreds of thousands of current ex-convicts seeking work, it will also indirectly affect millions of other Americans. Here's how.
The Inmates Themselves
About 650,000 inmates are released each year, the Justice Department reports. However, most find it incredibly difficult to find work after prison. According to MSNBC, the unemployment rate for recently released offenders can be as high as 75 percent for those in their first year out — compare that to the national unemployment average, most recently estimated at 5.1 percent. According to Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, Obama's decision could even the playing field between hundreds of thousands of former inmates and their non-ex-con competitors.
Families Of Ex-Convicts
The executive order will affect more than just the individual ex-cons themselves. Approximately 2.7 million American children have a parent in prison, according to the Prison Fellowship. When that parent is released, the former prisoner who returns home to support his or her family faces numerous difficulties, especially those 75 percent of ex-cons living below the poverty line, reports Slate. With so many dependents affected by this announcement, which will encourage employment for these former inmates, these families are more likely to increase their incomes and quality of life.
Banning the box is a good thing for society in general. Hundreds of thousands of ex-cons, unable to find work, return to criminal activity in order to provide for themselves and their families, the National Institute of Justice reports. Of the inmates released each year, more than three-quarters are eventually arrested again within five years of their release — and more than half within the first year.. In an indirect way, increasing employment for former convicts will likely cut down on crime, thus keeping city streets safer and allowing for these individuals to make a positive impact on the economy.
Prison reform activists, including musician John Legend, are lauding the president's executive order. Of course, it's only a small step towards reversing the United States' reputation as the world's biggest jailer. But it's a ripple that hopefully will spread across the pond.