Momentum grows for bill banning criminal history question

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Two U.S. senators are teaming up in an effort to “ban the box,” which would prohibit federal agencies and federal contractors from asking a job candidate’s criminal history.

Heather Rice-Minus of the justice reform advocacy group Prison Fellowship says that one question impacts 1 in 3 Americans with criminal records.

‘It’s almost… a scarlet letter,” said Rice-Minus.

With few options, she says many ex-cons may wind up back in prison.

“They want to go back out and provide for their families, contribute to their communities, and they just keep running into these barriers,” Rice-Minus said.

“That can be very defeating,” she added.

More than two dozen states have already banned the criminal history question from job applications. Now U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson wants the federal government to do the same.

“It just gives people that that extra chance,” the Wisconsin Republican said.

He’s partnering with Sen. Corey Booker, a Democrat, to push for the Ban the Box Act, which would apply to federal agencies and federal contractors.

“We’re just giving people who’ve been formerly incarcerated, have that record, the opportunity to have an interview and talk to an employer show an employer their value, their worth,” Johnson said.

Some researchers argue that without the question, prejudiced hiring managers may be less likely to hire people of color, fearing they could be hiding a criminal record. But Rice-Minus says that’s not a reason to kill the bill.

“We already have many laws that help prevent against discrimination,” she assured.

The ban the box bill passed in the U.S. House last week. Johnson says if he and Booker can build support in the Senate, the bill’s future is bright, based on President Donald Trump’s previous advocacy for prison reform.

“My guess is the president will definitely sign that into law,” he said.

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