Being convicted of a crime can certainly have lifelong ramifications that don’t necessarily involve life behind bars without parole. It can mean a lifetime of unemployment.
Minneapolis-raised Kissy Mason witnessed this firsthand in her own family. “People in my family were being locked up, and then they were locked out of a right to live, a right to employment,” she told Nur Lalji of Yes! Magazine.
Seventy percent of people released from prison commit another crime within three years, and part of this recidivism rate is due in part to how difficult it is for them to find a job.
Mason was determined to make better choices for herself than those being made by her family members. But in 2006, she was involved in a domestic argument that escalated, leading to a felony conviction. Although she never went to jail — she served probation instead — whenever she filled out an application for employment, she had to check the ubiquitous box indicating that she was a convicted felon. This status also disqualified her for low-income Section 8 housing.
Instead of lamenting the situation, Mason worked to change it. She joined the campaign to “ban the box,” which was started by All of Us or None (a group founded by formerly incarcerated people that had difficulty finding work) in 2003. Since then, 12 states have removed this question from job applications. Employers can still conduct criminal background checks, but by the time they get that far in the hiring process, they’ve usually had a chance to study the applicant’s other qualifications.
Mason’s home state, Minnesota, enacted legislation banning the box in January 2014. Because of the initiative, one of the state’s major corporations, Target, has stopped using the check-off box on job applications not just in its Minnesota stores— but throughout the country.
“Sometimes people bar you from jobs forever because of one incident, and I don’t think that’s fair,” Mason told Lalji. “People should be given another chance. It shouldn’t be one time and you’re out.”