Approve the 'ban the box' law [Letter]

March 28, 2014

In a recent letter, the CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee expressed the group's opposition to the "Ban the Box" legislation and urged the Baltimore City Council to defer passage ("'Ban the box' law is wrong approach," March 19). The business group argues that removing the arrest or conviction question from the initial job application would produce "unintended consequences that could inhibit private-sector job creation." Some of its members and supporters have commented that there is no way of knowing that banning the box will result in the hiring of people with criminal records and if there is a business policy not to hire people with records, then the legislation will have no impact at all. We appreciate this debate and the opportunity to clearly state what we do know.

Councilman Nick Mosby's proposed legislation does not prohibit employers from inquiring into a prospective employee's criminal history. It simply moves the question to later in the hiring process to give individuals impacted by the justice system something they currently do not have — a chance to at least get their foot in the door. We know that research by the often-cited sociologist Devah Pager shows that people with criminal records are less likely to be called for an interview than their peers without records. But the problem is even more pernicious. The research showed further that African-Americans without criminal records were less likely to be hired than their white peers with records. We know that the majority of people released from prison in Maryland return to Baltimore City and the vast majority of them are African-American.

We know that non-profit organizations that provide job training and placement services to this population have witnessed their program participants being turned away from jobs not because they are unqualified but because they have a dated or irrelevant criminal record. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions also knows this practice of systematically rejecting applicants with criminal records is real and it cannot be resolved by some businesses hiring one employee with a criminal record at a time. Systemic problems will not be resolved by individual solutions. That is why it released a guidance stating that businesses with a blanket policy of not hiring people with criminal records may be in violation of federal law. So if private businesses in Baltimore are routinely rejecting job applicants based only on a criminal record unrelated to specific job requirements, then they should consider revising those policies. This ban the box legislation will cause them to do so.

We also know that there are many private businesses in the city that are committed to identifying the most qualified person at the outset, and to the extent that a criminal record shows up in a background check, they will not always reject the applicant. Many of these employers are featured in Job Opportunities Task Force's PastForward video and we commend them for being leaders in their sectors. They know that some of the best and most committed employees are those with criminal histories who seek a second chance.

The GBC further asserts that enacting this type of policy would 'threaten economic growth' in the city. This is purely speculative and not based on factual evidence. The biggest threat to economic growth in Baltimore is the growing number of unemployed individuals with criminal records and the residual cost associated with the city supporting such a large unemployed population. There is no evidence that new business decisions have been negatively influenced by ban the box laws. That is smoke and mirrors. Business advocates are asking the council to defer passage of this bill in favor of offering businesses an incentive to hire individuals with criminal records. Those important incentives (such as bonds and tax breaks) are already in place but more work needs to be done to remove barriers to employment created by criminal records.

The impacted community has worked diligently with the business community to better understand how they can prove themselves to prospective employers and are willing to continue that dialogue. However, with so many individuals already struggling because of unemployment, we cannot defer passage of this legislation. We encourage you to remove unnecessary barriers to successful reentry and allow returning citizens the opportunity to find employment and support their families and Baltimore through tax revenue versus expenditures. Please vote favorably on Council Bill 10-0301 to "ban the box."

Katie Allston and Monica Cooper, Baltimore

The writers are members of the Greater Baltimore Grassroots Criminal Justice Network.

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