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Newark, Ohio Prepares to Ban the Box After Powerful Speeches from Ex-Offenders

By Michael Klazema on 7/23/2015
The news that the town of Newark, Ohio is considering "ban the box" legislation seems like small change when compared to the fact that New York City recently did ban the box for all private employers. After all, based on 2013 Census data, Newark only has a population of 47,777, while NYC is home to more than 8.4 million. Still, the news that Newark is pushing for "ban the box" legislation has national resonance, if only for how the new measures were proposed and presented to local city council members.

Though a city councilman was the person for initially proposing "ban the box" measures for Newark, it was ex-offenders who may have convinced the Newark City Council that those measures are needed. One man who spoke to the council refused to give his name, and instead referred to himself as "Number 373882." As the man's prison identification number, 373882 should have mostly ceased having a bearing on his life the day he was released from prison. Instead, the number has continued to follow him, thanks to questions on job applications that ask for criminal history.

"Once released from jail, prison, or probation, you're faced with being classified as a felon, a law-breaker," the man explained to a committee of Newark City Council members. In the eyes of Number 373882, that classification tells employers that ex-offenders aren't trustworthy, and gives them reason to discard applications on which "the box" is checked. It's "a second punishment by way of sanctions and restrictions," according to the former inmate.

The message to be gleaned from Number 373882's words is that ex-offenders are being discriminated against on the employment circuit. When hiring managers review a job application and see that an applicant has criminal history, that's all they can see going forward. They then presumably don't judge that person based on educational history, work experience, skills, or credentials. Instead, they only see the checked box on the application; they only see the prison identification number; they only see who the applicant in question used to be, not necessarily who they are now.

The proposed legislation in Newark would change that, at least for city jobs. All public employers would be required to remove criminal history queries from their job applications. The goal would be to give ex-offenders a chance to prove themselves and their fitness for certain jobs without having their hiring managers just looking them as criminals. Of course, city employers would still be allowed to run background checks and find out about criminal history later in the hiring process. Still, the hope would be to reduce the focus placed upon criminal history by employers, and increase the focus placed upon other factors more relevant to the job.

The Newark City Council is expected to pass the "ban the box" measure for city employers later this month. Other cities and towns looking to pass similar ordinances or laws, meanwhile, could look to Newark for inspiration. The way in which Number 373882 presented the issue to the City Council committee illustrated just how much ex-offenders are affected, even after they've served their time and earned the right to be free once more. By not giving his name and only emphasizing his prison I.D. number, the ex-inmate was able to shine a light on employment discrimination in much more powerful fashion than simple rhetoric would have afforded.

Source: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2015/07/13/newark-poised-to-join-entities-dropping-felon-box.html

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