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Worker Advocates Back ‘Banning The Box’

December 3, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco

"Fair Chance Act" advocates rally at City Hall

New York, NY – Getting a decent job in this economy is tough enough, but it can be almost impossible for those dragging around a criminal record in their portfolio. A new effort underway at the City Council, however, is seeking to change that. 

If approved, Intro. 318,  also know as the “Fair Chance Act,” would remove the box on job applications asking candidates to divulge their criminal records.  

Although it’s illegal to discriminate against those who do have criminal records, advocates for “banning the box” insist that asking a job applicant to immediately reveal whether or not they have a record, effectively eliminates them from further consideration. 

More than 80 other cities and 13 states – mostly recently New Jersey – have already moved to “ban the box.” 

“[There are two piles of applications] – the one with the check off box goes into the garbage,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said prior to a hearing about the issue at City Hall on Wednesday. 

Borough President Brewer previously introduced an effort to “ban the box” when she served in the City Council.

Activist Marilyn Scales supports "banning the box."
Activist Marilyn Scales supports

Councilman Jumaane Williams [D-45th District], chair of the Committee on Housing & Buildings, inow pushing the “Fair Chance Act” forward. 

The city has already “banned the box” on municipal job applications. The current “Fair Chance Act” would expand the ban and help the reported 5 million New Yorkers – many of them people of color – currently saddled with some type of criminal record. 

“Having a past conviction should not prevent somebody from being able to put food on the table or pay rent,” Councilman Williams said. “Intro. 318 ensures that all New Yorkers, including those that have become stigmatized because of previous convictions, will have an equal opportunity to compete for jobs for which they qualify.”

Advocates insist that passage of the act would not force employers to hire applicants with criminal histories, prevent them from performing criminal background checks, or lead to unwanted workplace scenarios. 

“We will not have pedophiles working in schools,” Borough President Brewer said. “We won’t have people who rob banks working in security. Stop thinking that this is an impediment – it is not.”

Kyle Bragg, secretary-treasurer, SEIU 32BJ, said that it is time for the City of New York to start investing in purposeful people determined to reenter the workforce. 

“Instead of denying second chances, let’s support everyone who wants to change their lives, work hard and contribute to our great city,” Bragg said. 

Kyle Bragg, SEIU 32BJ.
Kyle Bragg, SEIU 32BJ.

While benefitting the greater economy and cutting the rate of recidivism, advocates of the “Fair Chance Act” maintain that “banning the box” will also strike a significant blow against entrenched racial inequality. 

“Far too often, interactions with the criminal justice system end in tragedy, as we have seen too many times,” Bragg continued. “Many immigrants are deported. Many young black men end up dead or injured. Far too many end up behind bars, only to be left in poverty without access to jobs, housing or education when they come out.”

Vocal-NY activist and Bronx resident Marilyn Scales was convicted of a felony crime back in 1995, and served a few years in prison. Although she has never again broken the law since being released in 1997, Scales said has been unable to secure gainful employment becuse of the stigma she carries, and works a pair of jobs that together still aren’t enough to support her family. 

Despite the obstacles, however, Scales remains resolute.

“I am not my past,” Scales said. “I am a mother. I am a daughter. I am a community leader. And so much more.” 

Councilman Richie Torres [D-15th District] pointed to the “critical connection” between the struggle for fairness in the job market and the need to reform a criminal justice system which “systematically denies a fair chance to communities of color.”

“When you leave the criminal justice system, it does not leave you,” Councilman Torres said. “It haunts you the rest of your life and limits your access to employment. When we speak of ‘banning the box,’ it’s not only about removing the box from the application. It’s about breaking the box that the criminal justice system imposes on the freedom and future on communities of color.”



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