“The last thing I was thinking about was ever being involved in crime again,” says Ronald Day, who, after several years in prison, now serves as the associate vice president at the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy. When Day got out of prison, he had a GED and some college education, and when he applied for jobs, he had to tick a box indicating that he was a felon. “I recall going on one job interview and having the hiring manager ask me how I obtained a particular set of experiences and I told her that it was while I was incarcerated,” he says. “Immediately, I could tell that the interview shifted, that she was totally not interested in me because I acquired the skills that I talk about while I was incarcerated.”
There are 70 million Americans with criminal records—roughly the same number as bachelor’s degrees—and various parts of the government have proposed ways to make them more likely to be employed. In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made a point of reaffirming its ruling that it is illegal to disqualify an applicant if the crime for which he or she was convicted is not related to the potential job. And last month, President Obama signed a memorandum that would “ban the box” following a now-ongoing comments period. This would mean federal jobs wouldn’t include a checkbox that convicted felons are required to tick. Instead, a majority of agencies would not be allowed to ask about an applicant’s criminal history until later in the interview process.
“I think I would have had a far better chance of securing that job if I was not required to discuss my criminal conviction with the hiring manager,” says Day. A number of state and local governments have passed laws banning the box in recent years, in order to discourage public and private employers from preemptively winnowing out applicants with criminal histories.
While some criminal-justice reformers have applauded these measures, many argue they don’t go far enough. “Ban the Box can get you in the door and get you to the interview, but people may still do criminal-record checks after the interview and decline to hire the individual,” said Christy Visher, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware.
This is exactly what happened to Neil Cardoso, who applied for a job as a chauffeur shortly after a conviction and a brief incarceration in New York City for a white-collar financial crime. Cardoso was offered a position only to have it rescinded after a criminal background check was done. “They wanted me, they loved me, the people who did the hiring wanted me to start right away,” he says. “And then the HR department did the background check, that was the last part of the hiring process.” The company saw his conviction, and declined to hire him. Cardoso takes umbrage at the fact that the job had nothing to do with the offense for which he was convicted. “I had no fiduciary responsibilities as a chauffeur, I would just be driving people around.”