Virginia lawmakers recently introduced legislation to increase the employment chances for ex-felons, continuing the ex-offender restoration reforms championed by former Gov. Robert McDonnell.
State Sen. Don McEachin (D-Dist. 9) and Delegate Rob Krupicka (D-Dist. 45) recently introduced legislation in their respective chambers that would prohibit state agencies from inquiring about criminal history on employment applications.
So-called “ban the box” bills are among several measures advocated by civil rights groups and other activists on behalf of ex-offenders. The initiative gets its name from the box on job applications in which applicants have to indicate whether they have a criminal history. The movement seeks to give those applicants a chance to exhibit their skills, talents and personalities during the hiring process before they have to reveal their criminal past.
“When a person has served his time and is ready to become a constructive member of our society, we need to make sure that can happen,” McEachin said in a statement. “This legislation will create that opportunity for folks who want to get jobs and take care of their families instead of keeping them down and keeping them in a perpetual cycle of incarceration and unemployment.”
Advocates believe that when ex-offenders gain employment they are less likely to re-offend.
“75 percent of former offenders remain unemployed for up to one year after release,” Gail Arnall, executive director of Offender Aid and Restoration, said at a press conference to announce the new legislation. “Unemployed former offenders are 2.1 times more likely to be re-arrested than employed former offenders.
Businesses are missing out on qualified applicants because they are making assumptions about them before interviewing them. Employers have the right to know someone’s criminal background, but at least give them a chance at an interview.”
Krupicka, whose district includes African-American neighborhoods in Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax, added that the measure could also help the state conform with federal censure.
“This is also an important liability issue for Virginia,” he said. “The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has started to take actions against employers that fail to hire somebody solely due to a criminal background. Virginia can avoid this legal liability by ensuring we give prospective employees of the state a fair chance at a job interview by eliminating the criminal background box on employment applications. ”
In May 2013, McDonald made the restoration of voting rights an automatic process for nonviolent felons.
“A critical component of ensuring the security and protection of our citizens is reducing recidivism,” he said at the time. “Over 90 [percent] of inmates will be released from prison back into society. By making sure we have an effective system in place to give past offenders the opportunity to resume their lives as productive citizens, we can better keep them from committing another crime and returning to prison. This reduces victimization and prison expansion and is smart government.”