Making Government Work

Will Baltimore Join a Growing Movement That Helps Former Prisoners?

April 18, 2014
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Will Baltimore Join a Growing Movement That Helps Former Prisoners?
Pool photo by Anthony Devlin /WPA/Getty Images
Initiatives across the country are preventing employers from asking job applicants about their criminal histories.

One in four Americans have a criminal record, which is why many city and state legislatures are starting to think creatively about how to prevent job discrimination against former prisoners. And soon, Baltimore may become the sixth city in the U.S. to prohibit private employers from asking applicants about their criminal histories.

The legislation, which has recently been approved in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle, among other places, is called “ban the box” because currently job applicants have to check a box on applications if they have a criminal history. This type of bill is part of a national movement to reduce prison recidivism and increase employment opportunities for people who used to be in prison.

The number of people incarcerated in the United States rose about 13 percent between 2000 and 2012, according to Governing. When former prisoners re-enter their communities, it’s often very difficult for them to find jobs.

Employers “are looking to weed out people because of the volume of the applications they’re getting,” Maurice Emsellem, program director at the National Employment Law Project, told Governing. In Baltimore — where the unemployment rate is noticeably higher than the national average — this problem is especially apparent.

“Ban-the-box” legislation works to prevent employers from immediately discriminating against people who were formerly incarcerated. The policies still allow employers to ask about applicants’ criminal histories eventually.

In a preliminary vote on March 10, the Baltimore City Council passed the “Ban the Box” bill unanimously. They were set to have a final vote on April 8, but they delayed their decision according to WYPR News. They did add an amendment that would not “ban the box” from jobs requiring a criminal background check by law. The bill already excludes jobs where employees work with children, the elderly, or the disabled.

 

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