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'Ban the box' criminal background check legislation passed in Philadelphia

May 06, 2011 Matt Roesly

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter recently signed a new pre-employment screening ordinance into law to remove the question on job applications that asks whether a candidate has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime. The Fair Criminal Screening Standards Ordinance - known as the "ban the box" law - is due to go into effect on July 13, and will be enacted for both public and private employers. A recent study by the New York-based National Employment Law Project found that 65 million adults in the U.S. have a criminal record on file - the equivalent of approximately one in four - and 90 percent of employers use criminal background checks, as reported by WPVI-TV. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 60 percent of employers would probably not or definitely not hire an individual with a criminal record. In light of these statistics, the Philadelphia legislation allows former offenders to advance to a stage in the interview process where they are given the opportunity to explain their criminal histories, as opposed to simply checking a box. "It is already difficult for ex-offenders to get their foot in the door and obtain employment following incarceration," said Nutter in a statement. "This bill makes it a little easier to be considered for a job without harmful preconceptions by an employer before the first interview." More than 300,000 Philadelphia residents have been convicted of a crime, according to Eighth District Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, who introduced the bill to abolish the inclusion of the question on applications. "Most of the time when that question is answered, the box is checked [and] that application is put to the side or actually put in the trash," Miller said, quoted by local news site NewsWorks. "[The ordinance is] giving them a chance to be interviewed, to be tested, to put down their knowledge, skills and abilities, to have a real assessment before they are just disregarded." According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, similar laws have been passed in other U.S. cities, including Boston, Chicago and Atlanta, and four states - New Mexico, Connecticut, Hawaii and Minnesota - have made the legislation statewide. The recidivism rates in New Mexico, Connecticut and Minnesota are significantly below the national average, which suggests that ex-convicts who find jobs are consistently less likely to re-offend, according to civil rights blog The Defenders Online.