Washington Post, By Reid Wilson February 24, 2015
Georgia will no longer require job applicants to disclose their criminal histories on employment forms after Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed an executive order this week aimed at smoothing the reintegration process for former inmates.
Deal’s order [pdf] applies only to those seeking work with state agencies. It would prohibit those agencies from using a prior criminal history as an automatic disqualifier for job applicants. Those applicants will have the opportunity to discuss their criminal records in person.
The policy is known as “ban the box,” a reference to employment forms that ask about prior criminal convictions. Georgia is the 14th state to adopt the policy, along with states as diverse as Nebraska, New Mexico, California and Hawaii. Nationally, nearly 100 cities, including Washington, D.C., have adopted the same policy.
Every “ban the box” state has applied the policy to state hiring. Six — Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island and New Jersey — ban questions about prior convictions on job applications for private employment.
Supporters, like the National Employment Law Project, say “ban the box” policies help people with criminal records reintegrate into society. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommended removing conviction questions from employment applications in a 2012 report.
Deal’s office said in the executive order that more than 1,300 offenders reenter Georgia communities every month. The Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians recommended the policy last year, in a report to the state assembly.
” ‘Ban the box’ is a policy intended to improve public safety, enhance workforce development, and provide increased state employment opportunities for applicants with criminal convictions on their records by removing the criminal history related questions from the initial stage of the state employment application process,” Deal’s office wrote in the executive order, signed Monday. “Such policies allow returning citizens an opportunity to explain their unique circumstances in person to a potential employer.”
The NELP estimates about 70 million Americans have some kind of criminal record. About 700,000 people leave incarceration every year. Unemployment rates skyrocketed among those with prior criminal histories during the recession, according to some studies, which also find that having a job significantly reduces the recidivism rate for prior offenders.
Not every state employee will be free from questions about past criminal histories. The executive order exempts what it calls “sensitive governmental positions,” like security officers or prison guards, for which a criminal history would be immediately disqualifying.
(Note from Sheila Ganz, filmmaker On Life’s Terms: Mothers in Recovery – Ban the Box is an important issue to support for all Americans including mothers with a history of incarceration. www.onlifesterms.org)