WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) today led a group of 25 of their Senate colleagues in urging President Obama to expand job opportunities and reduce recidivism by taking executive action and requiring federal contractors and federal agencies to “ban the box” on job applications. Reforming hiring practices has widespread support from both public and private institutions. Sixteen states and more than 100 cities and counties have already begun to implement fair chance hiring practices that prevent job applicants from being asked about prior convictions until later in the hiring process. Many of the nation’s largest employers, including Walmart; Target; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Koch Industries; and Home Depot, have also opted to “ban the box.”
In addition to Cardin, Brown and Booker, the letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tom Carper (D-DE), Jack Reed (D-R.I,), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
“There isn’t a single member of the United States Senate who hasn’t received a second chance at one point or another,” said Senator Cardin. “If we want to reduce recidivism, we must allow Americans who have served their time to fully reintegrate by seeking gainful employment in our communities. Banning the box along with my legislation to restore voting rights to the millions who are out of prison but excluded from the democratic process, are important steps towards reforming our criminal justice system.”
Under “ban the box,” employers would retain the ability to inquire about past convictions or conduct background checks regarding a potential employee before making an employment decision.
“If we’re going to stop recidivism and ensure that people who have served their time can reenter the workforce, we must promote fair hiring practices,” Brown said. “Americans deserve the chance to earn a living and make a positive contribution to their communities. These reforms would ensure that they have that chance and help to restore hope and opportunity to those who have paid their dues to society.”
“Ban the Box” refers to the section on job application forms that inquires whether the applicant has ever been convicted. For the more than 70 million Americans who have criminal convictions, this barrier to employment so early in the hiring process can serve as categorical disqualification, and limits their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Studies have shown that an inability to find employment is one of the leading causes of reoffending.
“People who are trying to turn their lives around deserve a second chance to lift themselves up and become a productive member of society. But hiring practices often trap people with records in a life sentence of unemployment,” Booker said. “Sixteen states, more than a hundred cities, and some of the biggest companies in the country have ‘banned the box’ in an effort to give a fair shot to people who want to work and make a better life for themselves. We should follow their example and more widely implement this reform.”
In 2013, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation “banning the box” for applicants seeking employment with the State of Maryland. Last year, Baltimore City passed legislation to “ban the box” for applicants to private and public sector employment. Montgomery and Prince George’s County have enacted similar legislation.
Cardin, Brown and Booker continue to advocate for the rights of people with arrests or convictions. The senators are cosponsors of Senator Cardin’s Democracy Restoration Act of 2015, legislation that would restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated individuals. The bill aims to help Americans who have served their time successfully reenter their communities.
The full letter can be found below.
May 11, 2015
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Dear Mr. President:
Our nation’s legal and moral underpinnings provide that anyone who makes a mistake and learns from it deserves a second chance. Those who have accepted the consequences of their actions and who have paid the price for their past transgressions, should have the opportunity to reenter the workplace. Yet, too often, the over 70 million Americans who have criminal histories face unreasonable barriers that prevent them from securing gainful employment. These barriers have prevented millions from becoming productive members of society and serve as one of the leading causes of recidivism. According to one study, men who reported criminal convictions were about 50 percent less likely to receive a callback or a job offer and African-American men with a conviction are 40 percent less likely to receive an interview. The result is a hiring process which denies millions the ability to fully participate in the labor market, and limits their ability to care for themselves and their families while contributing to our economy.
We urge you to use your power as our nation’s Chief Executive to require that federal contractors incorporate “fair chance” hiring practices and that federal agencies take additional steps to create a more fair and transparent hiring process. Specifically, we ask you to require federal contractors and agencies to refrain from asking job applicants about prior convictions until later in the hiring process. This policy would eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment for all job seekers and would give individuals re-entering the workforce the opportunity to apply for work based on their current merits rather than past wrong-doings. Employers would retain the ability to inquire about past convictions or conduct background checks regarding a potential employee before making an employment decision.
In the last few years, the list of jurisdictions with similar laws has expanded rapidly. Sixteen states and over 100 cities and counties have taken steps to prohibit public agencies from asking job applicants about criminal convictions until later in the application process. Most recently, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed an Executive Order making the case that “‘Ban the Box’ hiring policies enhance Georgia’s reputation as the number one place to do business by increasing qualified applicant pools and improving the likelihood that the employer will identify the best candidate for the position.” Six states and a number of cities have extended the policy to include both public and private sector workers, and some of the nation’s largest companies, including Walmart; Target; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Koch industries; and Home Depot have stopped asking about criminal records at the beginning of the job application process.
Your administration has also acknowledged the necessity of taking action. In 2011, Attorney General Holder convened a federal commission, called the Reentry Council, which called for “making the federal government a model employer.” And in 2014, the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force strongly endorsed these “fair chance” reforms because they “give applicants a fair chance and allow employers the opportunity to judge individual job candidates on their merits as they reenter the workforce.”
Taking executive action to address this problem is firmly within the authority of your office. As early as 1943, President Roosevelt issued an executive order that required all government contracts to include a non-discrimination clause, an effort that multiple Administrations have built upon and which helped to increase the speed by which the private sector moved to address discrimination and to ensure equal employment opportunities for all Americans.
We urge you to build on this momentum and take executive action to assist the large number of job seekers who have been unfairly locked out of the job market because of a record. These reforms would restore hope and opportunity to those with criminal records who face substantial obstacles in their quest to be productive members of their communities.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.