Job seekers in the Baltimore-Washington region with a criminal history could find one obstacle to employment –a prison record—swept aside by legislation, commonly known as ‘Ban the Box’ legislation, that prevents would-be employers from inquiring about their past.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake May 28 signed a bill passed by the Baltimore City Council at the end of April that prohibits some employers from questioning job applicants about their criminal background. It had been argued that such questions often throw cold water on otherwise bright job prospects.
“This bill is about tearing down those barriers, breaking the barriers to employment,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake as she signed the legislation that the Baltimore City Council had been debating for weeks. “This is about making sure that we put Baltimore back to work,” she said.
“At the end of the day, we have to figure out innovative ways of growing our city,” said Councilman Nicholas Mosby, sponsor of the bill.
Legislation similar to that signed into law in Baltimore, is advancing through the D.C. Council. D.C. Council member Tommy Wells’ (D-Ward 6) attempt to reduce the unemployment rate in D.C. by making the hiring process less biased to ex-offenders was unanimously approved by the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety May 28.
The D.C. ‘Ban the Box’ legislation, entitled the Fair Criminal Record Screening Act of 2014, would remove questions about an applicant’s criminal history from private employer’s job applications, prohibit any inquiry into an applicant’s arrest record and delay inquiry into an applicant’s criminal convictions until after the first interview.
“Gaining employment is one of the biggest barriers facing returning citizens,” Wells said in a press release May 29.
The legislation is expected to be included on the D.C. Council’s June 3 meeting agenda, Kouri C. Marshall, senior advisor and director of external affairs for Wells’ office told the AFRO in an email.
The council will have to vote on the bill twice.
According to a 2012 report from the National Institute of Justice, African Americans account for 28 percent of all arrests even though they make up less than 14 percent of the U.S. population.
The report said penalties are more likely to be enforced on ex-offenders with African American or Latino backgrounds as opposed to their White counterparts.
“This bill is a crucial step in addressing that challenge. The passage of ‘Ban the Box’ represents another important victory for social justice in the District of Columbia,” Wells said.
In addition to Baltimore, thirteen other jurisdictions have adopted “Ban the Box” legislation including Rochester and Buffalo, N.Y., according to Mondaq, a news and regulatory information web site.