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A New Frontier In Civil Rights: Ban the Box Legislation


Civil rights legislation has come a long way in the last fifty years. While discrimination, both overt and subtle, is still a very real problem in the United States, legislatures have taken action to protect many people who have been discriminated against. Race and sex discrimination have been illegal for decades in housing, employment, and voting. Protections have also been put in place for people living with disabilities and pregnant women. More and more states and federal agencies are adopting non-discrimination policies when it comes to members of the LGBT community. But there is one group that it is still socially acceptable to discriminate against: people who were convicted of a crime sometime in the past. But fortunately, that tradition may finally be coming to an end in some areas.

When Will the Punishment End?

People commonly speak of a convicted criminal’s responsibility for doing his or her time if he or she does a crime. And that is the very essence of a penal system. But the problem has been that once people convicted of crimes (particularly felonies) in our country have served their time, they have been continually punished by society. Unable to get jobs, some are forced to resort to recidivism in order to survive, the exact opposite of what we want to see happen as a result of our justice system. So some jurisdictions are finally doing something about the problem: they are banning the box. And Hawaii was the first state to take this monumental step, way back in 1998.

Finally other jurisdictions are starting to follow Hawaii’s example. Radio Station 90.1 WABE reports that Washington D.C. is expected to joint four states and several cities in banning employers from asking job applicants upfront if they have a criminal record. The phrase “ban the box” refers to the box one often has to check on a job application indicating whether or not he or she has been convicted of a crime.

In the United States, approximately 70 million people have been arrested or convicted of a crime. That is more than the combined populations of the entire states of California and Texas. Employment is the best way to prevent those people from returning to custody.

Exceptions Do Exist

Its important to note that ban the box laws are not complete bans. Sensitive jobs like those where one works with children are still allowed to ask. So this sort of legislation will not result in convicted child abusers working in elementary schools. What it will do is allow that convicted child abuser to get a job at somewhere else so he or she can pay child support and other obligations.

After Hawaii passed a ban, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Minnesota joined the suit. And Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has also just signed similar legislation into law.The Washington Times reports that under the Illinois law, private employers will be barred from requiring the disclosure of a criminal history or from performing a criminal background check until an applicant has been determined to be qualified for the position. Certain construction jobs, emergency medical jobs, and security jobs will be exempt. The law will take effect on January 1, 2015. Illinois already banned the box when it comes to state agencies.

The attorneys at Davis Levin Livingston are constantly monitoring the developments in this area of the law, and can answer any questions that you may have.