Bipartisan Efforts to Give Ex-Felons a Second Chance in Minnesota

By Michael Klazema on 7/12/2013

Minnesota is just one of many states across the nation that has passed “ban the box” legislation, which prevents employers from asking job applicants questions about their criminal backgrounds before the interview stage. Now representatives from both parties are working together to introduce even more legislation that will help Minnesota ex-felons rebuild their lives and rejoin society.

Two proposals are currently on the agenda in Minnesota. The first would allow ex-felons to recover their right to vote more quickly. The second would permanently seal some types of old criminal records, which would prevent those old crimes from continuing to follow individuals around after they’d served their debt to society. Sealed records would no longer appear on background checks, and individuals would not be obligated to report these crimes to potential employers.

Legislators have not yet determined the parameters that would be used to determine which criminal records would be sealed. This decision would have to be made carefully, to balance the need to help ex-felons get jobs with the need to protect the public from individuals who may not have truly reformed.

Regardless if this new legislation becomes law, employers can continue to use criminal background checks such as US OneSEARCH from to reveal criminal convictions associated with any prospective employee’s name and date of birth, and rest assured that they are getting a full picture of that individual’s background. US OneSEARCH is a very comprehensive background check tool that includes a check of over 450 million public criminal records taken from state and local databases across the country, as well as an Offender Registry search.

Employers should be careful how they interpret the results of a background check, however. Current EEOC guidance as well as public opinion favors case-by-case evaluation of individuals’ criminal records, rather than a blanket rejection of all felons (except for positions designated by state or federal law).

Supporters of sealing records in Minnesota point to two cases that demonstrate the limitations of relying on background checks alone without providing prospective employees with the opportunity to explain their convictions and their subsequent steps to reform.

The first example is the case of a young man named Allen, who pled guilty to a misdemeanor burglary charge in 2007. His role in the burglary was giving a friend a ride to a pawnshop, which the friend then entered and robbed. Allen’s mother believes his friend took advantage of the fact that Allen has Asperger’s syndrome when convincing him to give the ride. Now Allen says that as soon as employers see “burglary” on his background check, they show him the door.

The second example is the case of Juan, a Minneapolis man who held down good jobs up until a dispute with his ex-wife led to criminal charges. The incident was non-violent, but Juan ended up pleading guilty to felony terroristic threats. Juan reports that since being released from prison, he has been unable to find work, as the name of his felony makes his crime seem very serious.

In both of these cases, a thoughtful employer who took the time to listen to the job candidate’s description of the circumstances surrounding his conviction might decide to give them a second chance. If passed, the record-sealing legislation could potentially take this opportunity for thoughtful decision-making away from employers.


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