Recently, there was an opinion piece on rrstar.com, written by Hilary Gowins, claiming that the criminal justice system in Illinois is crushing human capital.
In her article, Gowins explains how anyone with a criminal record faces numerous barriers in trying to find work in Illinois. They can be banned from 118 professions and business licenses, keeping them from becoming barbers, architects, nail technicians, or nurses.
In 2010, NBC ran an article linking recidivism rates to jobless rates for ex-offenders. “If people get drawn back into the real world, get a job and make a living, studies show they’ll be less likely to go back to prison,” said Howard Husock, vice president for policy research for The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Without jobs, they are more likely to return to prison.
The Washington Post ran an article at the beginning of 2015 detailing the same issue: ex-offenders are still facing problems finding employment due to their criminal background. The article explains how some communities are banning government and some businesses from asking about criminal background on job applications. This allows them to be considered based on their merits, before being immediately dismissed because of their status as a felon. Such measures may also give people the chance to explain their situation, instead of checking a box.
‘Banning the box’ is far from taking place nationwide.
According to Gowins, 48 percent of ex-offenders in Illinois return to prison within three years; however, of those who have found work, the number is much lower. In 2013, Illinois did pass a law that allows ex-offenders to petition to have their records sealed, allowing only law enforcement and certain employers (e.g. schools) to have access. While this is helpful, the ex-offender is only eligible for sealing after two to three years following the end of his or her sentence, and, depending on the level of the felony, not all are eligible to petition.
There are organizations, like Hope for Prisoners, that are helping ex-offenders find placement, but is that enough? Should more businesses be willing to hire ex-offenders? Or, at least, give them fair consideration before tossing their application? Should the government step in and pass more ‘ban the box’ laws?