Feb 08, 2023
A criminal conviction on your record can make it challenging to get a job. Many companies conduct background checks on applicants, and any signs of past criminal activity often serve as grounds to refuse employment.
Unfortunately, approximately one in three Americans have a criminal conviction on their record. The result is that about 70 million Americans encounter difficulties when trying to get a job.
Ban the Box laws exist to make the hiring process fairer for those who have criminal convictions.
Here, we examine what Ban the Box laws are and why they’re a good idea.
We also list the states that apply these laws and what you can expect when applying for a job in each state.
What Are Ban the Box Laws?
Ban the Box laws are laws that prevent employers from requesting a background check into a candidate’s criminal history during the written application process.
Pro Tip: Here are some jobs that don’t require a background check.
The laws aim to remove bias from the initial hiring process, allowing candidates with criminal records to improve their chances of moving further in the hiring process and possibly receive employment offers.
Did you know? An analysis from the Prison Policy Initiative shows that unemployment among formerly incarcerated people stands at 27%. This rate is higher than national unemployment at any point in the United States’ history, including The Great Depression.
It’s important to note that Ban the Box is not a blanket ban on background checks. Employers still have the right to look into the criminal past of a candidate.
However, these checks occur later in the hiring process in a Ban the Box state. For example, an employer may not ask if a candidate was ever convicted of a crime until the interview or until they’ve made a conditional employment offer.
Precisely when an employer can inquire about your criminal history depends on the rules implemented in your state.
The Benefits of Ban the Box Laws
In its report “The Benefits of Ban the Box – A Case Study of Durham, NC,” The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) explains three key benefits of Ban the Box laws:
Benefit No. 1 – Increasing the Tax Base
Removing barriers to employment allows both local and state governments to earn more tax dollars from the working public.
The SCSJ’s study highlights a report conducted in Washington, which shows that providing job training and employment to formerly-incarcerated people returned $2,600 per person to the taxpayer.
It also highlights a study in Philadelphia, which states that hiring 100 former criminals would boost tax annual tax contributions by $1.9 million and reduce tax expenditure on criminal justice costs by $2 million per year.
Benefit No. 2 – Employers Benefit From Fairer Hiring Policies
The SCSJ’s report highlights statistics that demonstrate how employers benefit from hiring those with past criminal convictions.
For example, one report states that people with criminal backgrounds are between 1% and 1.5% more productive in the workplace than those without convictions.
Furthermore, a Johns Hopkins Health Resource Center review found that it retained far more of its previously incarcerated staff members over a 10-year period than it retained staff without criminal convictions.
The implication of these figures is that those with criminal records are more motivated and more likely to stay with an employer who gives them an opportunity.
Benefit No. 3 – Decreasing Crime
The lack of stable employment is one of the chief causes of recidivism. When a previously-incarcerated person can’t find a job, they’re more likely to fall back into the lifestyle that led to their incarceration.
Again, the SCSJ’s report offers statistics to support this claim. It states that former criminals are half as likely to have committed another crime two years after their initial release if they’ve found work.
Ban the Box laws make it more likely that people with past criminal convictions will get jobs. Thus, they’re less likely to re-offend, which benefits the former felon, the prison system, and society at large.
Which States Have Ban the Box Laws?
Despite the demonstrated benefits of Ban the Box laws, they’re not implemented in every American state. At the time of writing, 27 states have adopted some form of these laws, though the exact execution of the laws varies from state to state and even from county to county.
The following states have some form of Ban the Box Laws in place that apply to every county in the state:
District of Columbia
Furthermore, the following states have Ban the Box laws implemented at county levels, though they don’t force statewide implementation of the laws:
As noted, the nature of Ban the Box laws varies. For example, Louisiana’s Ban the Box laws only apply in New Orleans.
Even then, they only apply to contractors doing business with companies in New Orleans, meaning that companies in the cities can still conduct background checks on employees.
By contrast, Illinois has blanket Ban the Box rules stating that no private company with over 15 employees can conduct background checks before an interview.
Furthermore, a candidate may only get disqualified from the application process if their conviction has a substantial relationship to the position for which they apply.
For instance, somebody with a conviction for driving under the influence may get disqualified from a position related to driving, such as trucking jobs, or food delivery jobs.
Due to the varying implementations of Ban the Box laws, it’s crucial that applicants understand the laws that apply to their state or county. Research the laws to understand your rights based on your location.
Did you know? The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019 came into force in December 2021. This law prevents federal agencies and contractors from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record until they have been conditionally offered the job.
Ban the Box Helps Previously Incarcerated Job Applicants
Ban the Box laws help those with criminal histories get back on their feet. By removing many of the obstacles that previously stood in the way of applying for jobs, these laws give candidates a fair chance of being considered for roles that might have otherwise passed them by.
Beyond these obvious benefits for those with criminal histories, Ban the Box has wider societal benefits.
The laws increase the tax dollars flowing into local and state coffers, in addition to reducing crime and offering benefits to employers.
As more states adopt these laws, we’re likely to see more people overcome their criminal histories so they can successfully reintegrate into society.