Hoping to prevent convicts from being shut out of the work force, some major cities are eliminating questions from job applications that ask whether prospective employees have ever been convicted of a crime, the Associated Press reports. Most still conduct background checks after making job offers, but proponents say the new approach will help more convicts find work and reduce the likelihood they will commit new crimes. So-called “ban the box” ordinances that drop the criminal history question from job applications have been adopted in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Baltimore, San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., and Norwich, Ct. Los Angeles and other cities are considering doing so.
Some cities such as Chicago continue to conduct criminal background checks for all positions. Others such as Boston do so only when reviewing applicants for school jobs or other sensitive duties. Cities that have dropped the question could not say how many convicts they have hired. Baltimore has had a hiring freeze since it banned the box nearly a year ago. Proponents acknowledge that changing the application is not a panacea, but they insist it allows people with criminal records to get a foot in the door. Cities are also creating standards for determining whether a criminal record is relevant to the job. In Chicago, where 20,000 inmates return from prison annually and two-thirds are arrested within three years, the city adopted a policy to balance the severity of the crime with other factors, such as the passage of time and evidence of rehabilitation.