Shaw: Johnson County’s ‘Ban the Box’ law was exemplary; others should follow suit


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Johnson County recently voted to ‘Ban the Box,’ and other counties should follow suit in providing ex-criminals the chance to re-enter society and the workplace after serving their time in prison and becoming a reformed, rehabilitated person.

Nichole Shaw

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Johnson County passed a ban the box ordinance on June 14 that removes the requirement for applicants to initially disclose any criminal history. The idea is, employers won’t be able to discriminate against ex-felons.

Many job applicants who check the box on criminal history won’t even get a callback for the position they are seeking. This premature weeding out leads to inherent discrimination against African-American men and other people of color because it disproportionately affects them. Discrimination such as this leads to poverty and more inclination for these individuals to commit more offenses again​ — just to survive.

RELATED: County axes criminal history on job applications

Therefore, the county’s decision to pass the measure was rightful and just. It allows job applicants with criminal histories to have a higher chance of being able to contribute to their community. Other counties should do the same.

According to an article published earlier this month by The Daily Iowan, “The supervisors’ action requires that applicants be selected for interviews before being asked about their criminal records. This is in an attempt to base the selection of applicants on job qualifications and skills, not criminal history.” By basing these applicants on their actual qualifications and skills, it gives them a fighting chance to be fully considered for the jobs they have applied for instead of being immediately disregarded without any consideration for how well these applicants would be able to perform the duties.

Individuals are sent to prison to be reformed and rehabilitated so they come out as functioning, law-abiding citizens. When incarcerated individuals have achieved this, they are released.

So why would we unfairly punish them by disregarding their efforts to create better lives for themselves on job applications? Some may say it’s because they are still criminals. But by saying this, people are implying that the whole point of prison rehabilitation is useless and ineffective. Johnson County did right by this 4-0 vote, and other counties and states should follow suit in the effort to end the disproportionate disregard for people of color as they re-enter the workforce.

By banning the box, it delays employers’ ability to do background checks. This forces the employers to consider the applicants as actual human beings. Those who have been incarcerated still deserve to be treated with dignity after serving their rightful time and trying to re-enter society and improve their lives as new persons. Supervisor Mike Carberry said, “Obviously, some of these questions are relevant when asked at the relevant time … However, not at the beginning, where that knowledge could prejudice the hiring or not hiring of an applicant.”

Statements like these are respectable and right regarding the ban-the-box movement because it gives ex-criminals the opportunity to re-enter society as changed persons, looking to make the world a better place in both the economy and civic engagement.

According to an NPR interview with staff attorney Beth Avery, “Studies show that when a person checks the box on an initial application, their likelihood of a callback drops by half if they’re a white applicant and to almost one-third if they’re a person of color.” Data such as those show exactly why the box on initial job applications is such a problem. It is obvious these individuals are put at a disadvantage straight off the bat, without consideration for the weight of their crime — if it was a misdemeanor or a felony — or an understanding of applicants’ explanations of how they have been reformed, among other things.

It’s time for other Iowa counties and other states to ban the box and give these individuals the right to be fairly considered. After all, that’s what our entire justice system is based upon. The idea that when prisoners leave prison renewed people, they are given the chance to become a part of society again.

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