Time to Ban the Box?


Just a decade ago, a group of formerly incarcerated people and their families known as All of Us or None started a campaign to “Ban the Box”—that is, to remove the check-box question found on typical job-application forms that asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” Because a “yes” answer to this question routinely results in an individual’s losing any chance of getting the job, it acts as a barrier to employment for anyone who has spent time in jail or prison. This bar persists long after individuals have “paid their debt to society,” and it contributes to long-term unemployment, especially among African American and Latino males.

The goal of the movement to Ban the Box is for job-seekers to be judged on their current skills and qualifications, not on their past trouble with the law. Some 70 million adults in the United States have a prior arrest or conviction record. Also called second-chance or fair-chance hiring, the movement focused first on government agencies and public hiring practices. It has helped bring about policy changes in at least 16 states and more than 100 cities and counties, including New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, and San Francisco.

Advocates then turned their efforts toward expanding the civil rights protections to the private sector. Some businesses have begun voluntarily adopting the policy. A company may still conduct a background check of a job applicant, and take into consideration a past conviction history in evaluating candidates for a job. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission now requires that all employers make an “individualized assessment” of the circumstances of any applicant’s past convictions. Fair-hiring advocacy groups like the National Employment Law Project urge employers to make an applicant’s arrest or conviction history a secondary consideration.

Image credit: © Yellow Dog Productions/Getty Images

Related Links

  • Koch Industries “Bans the Box”
    Listen to this radio report about the impact of Koch Industries’ decision to “Ban the Box” in all its job application forms.
    (Source: Marketplace.org, April 28, 2015)
  • What Apple Can Learn from the Koch Brothers
    This article discusses the impact that high-profile companies like Koch Industries and Apple might have on the “Ban the Box” movement.
    (Source: San Francisco Chronicle, April 30, 2015)
  • Take the Fair Chance Pledge
    This is the official website of the “Ban the Box” campaign, sponsored by All of Us or None, which aims to give people with past convictions a second chance in the labor market.
    (Source: bantheboxcampaign.org; accessed May 6, 2015)
  • Ensuring People with Convictions Have a Fair Chance to Work
    The website of NELP advocates “to ensure that America upholds for all workers her promise of opportunity and economic security through work”; it includes a map showing states and cities that have adopted “fair chance” employment policies, and a Q&A section on the issue.
    (Source: National Employment Law Project; accessed May 6, 2015)


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