Why Michigan Should Defend “Ban the Box” Policy

Governor Snyder “Banned the Box” for state job applications and state-issued occupational licenses effective Oct. 1, 2018. Ban the Box policies are being adopted across the country. They are an effort to end the initial disqualification of applicants based on criminal background. Excluding applicants with criminal backgrounds is very limiting to employers, because nearly one in three adults in America has a criminal record. These policies do not remove an employers’ access to criminal background information, rather delaying it until later in the hiring process to fairly evaluate the applicant’s skills and qualifications first. The goal is to ensure that returning citizens are given a fair chance at successful employment outcomes.


Why Some Argue Against Ban the Box Policies

A recently published article argues that Ban the Box policies lead to further employment discrimination for young, low-skill black and Hispanic men. Its findings rely on statistical discrimination and posits that removing criminal history information “could increase statistical discrimination against demographic groups that include ex-offenders.” Using data from the 2004-2014 Current Population Surveys, the study explores the relationship between employment rates for young (25-34), low-skill (no college degree) black and Hispanic men in areas with Ban the Box policies. The study did not account for any other socioeconomic factors for the target population when determining employment rates. The study finds that Ban the Box policies could have a negative net effect on employment rates for young, low-skill black (-3.4 percentage points) and Hispanic (-2.3 percentage points) men.


The study suggests that when employers don’t know if the applicant has a criminal record, the employer could assume based on other factors like race, gender, age, neighborhood, or education level. It theorizes that when an employer cannot tell from an application if the applicant has a criminal record, the employer will revert to easily identifiable traits to make generalizations about the applicant to predict how that person will perform in the workplace.


Why Ban the Box Policies are Good for Business

Rather than assume information about an applicant, Banning the Box enables an employer to evaluate the person on experience, skills, and ability – including their involvement in the criminal justice system. This ends automatically disqualifying applicants based on criminal history, which can create a variety of problems for employers and communities alike. Enacting Ban the Box policies ends these disqualifying and inefficient practices and instead allows employers to first look to whether the applicant is a good fit, and then evaluate the impact of previous involvement in the justice system. This is also known as “Moving the Box.”

These policies are good for business. Research supports that employees with criminal histories are reliable, productive, and positive members of the workforce. Hiring returning citizens keeps communities safer since individuals are less likely to reoffend if they are employed. Employment then also reduces expenses associated with high recidivism rates. In Michigan, one of every five tax dollars is spent on corrections and the state has increased corrections spending five-fold over public education in the last 30 years. Evidence shows that after ten years without reoffending, a returning citizen is no more likely to offend than the general public. Employers and jurisdictions with Ban the Box and other fair hiring practices are trying to keep communities safer, reduce crime, and develop a framework to end a discriminatory and misleading stigma.


Changing the Narrative and Leading Practices

Articles arguing against Ban the Box or Move the Box policies are concerned that enacting such policies does little to erase employer concerns about hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds. While this may be true, Governor Snyder’s decision to Ban the Box for employment with the state of Michigan and state-issued occupational license applications is upholding a morally corrective, fact-based model. Many national and local companies already commit to hiring returning citizens, including Koch Industries, Starbucks, Butterball Farms, and Cascade Engineering. Michigan’s Department of Corrections is also working to improve the job readiness skills of returning citizens through vocational training. Leading practices for the fair hiring of returning citizens include adopting Move the Box policies, performing individual assessments of criminal histories, and joining partnerships that encourage fair hiring. When assessing criminal history, it is important to consider the gravity and nature of the offense, the time that has passed, and its relevance to the job being sought. This practice complies with the law and increases employers’ talent pool.

West Michigan employers can join the 30/2/2 initiative to commit to hiring and tracking the success of returning citizens. Employers can also access community service providers such as Goodwill Industries, Hope Network, and 70×7 to learn more

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