Ban-the-Box Laws Popular, But Enforcement is Spotty

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Politicians tout ban-the-box laws as popular criminal-justice-reform measures with support from liberals, centrists, and some conservatives. They stand for the notion that public and private employers should give people who have served time a fair shot at competing for jobs by removing questions about arrests, charges, and convictions from at least the initial parts of the hiring process. What’s less clear is whether the various ban-the-box policies across the country are being implemented and enforced in a way that makes good on their promise, and give the roughly one-third of adults in the United States with criminal records the tools to know their rights, The Atlantic reports.

Of the 35 states with such policies, more than a dozen have instituted a state-level enforcement process to give applicants a way to report violations. Other states don’t specify enforcement procedures explicitly, and it was difficult to pin down if and how those states are processing complaints. In some cases, state personnel either weren’t aware of ban-the-box policies in the first place or weren’t able to explain how they were being enforced. Many cities and states have seen only modest numbers of complaints and resolutions. For example, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination reported just 21 fair-chance-hiring complaints in 2018. This year, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights identified just 21 ban-the-box violations as of mid-August. People overseeing ban-the-box implementation assume that low numbers of complaints don’t indicate better compliance; instead, possible violations are likely being underreported. Kevin Kish, who leads California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing and has found the state’s fair-chance hiring complaint numbers to be lower than he anticipated, reflected on attending a recent event for the reentry community in South Los Angeles: “I could count on two hands, of the hundreds of people there, the number of people who knew about this.”

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