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Obama Bans the Box


Reforming the criminal justice system has been a surprising talking point for both parties as we inch closer to the 2016 elections. Members from either side of the aisle agree that our prisons are overpopulated (accounting for almost 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population) and there’s a need to reduce the number of inmates, but what happens once the formerly incarcerated are reintegrated into society? President Obama has detailed a plan that may begin to answer some of those questions, starting with the job hunt.


(Photo Credit: Kathryn Decker/Flickr)

The concept is known as “banning the box” and it’s legislation straight from the White House that will take effect immediately. This specific law pertains only to applicants seeking to become federal government employees, but marks an important step in the universal adoption of similar anti-discrimination laws.

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As the NBC News report indicates, a “ban-the-box” law has been adopted by Republican governor Chris Christie in his home state of New Jersey, and Republican senator and fellow presidential candidate Rand Paul introduced similar legislation at the federal level.

Delaying Discrimination

“The box” is the check mark on job applications that indicates if you have a criminal background. Opponents of the box claim that it’s an impediment to ex-cons who are seeking viable employment, and a vehicle for discriminating against otherwise qualified applicants who are looking for honest work.

By introducing this law, the President has made a clear statement that his administration is intent on reforming not only the United States’ problem with mass incarceration, but the process of rehabilitation altogether in a way that benefits society as a whole. In the report, the president is quoted as saying, “If they have at least the chance to meet you … maybe they give you a chance.”

Blind Hiring

This is not dissimilar from other anti-discrimination processes that are being adopted around the globe. Recently UCAS, Britain’s central body for many university applications, adopted a name-blind policy so as not to promote “unconscious bias” when filtering through students’ applications.

Legislation like this is immensely important, as the problem does not solely rest on whether someone has a criminal record or not. Even in 2015, a study by Harvard’s Devah Pager shows that a black man with no criminal record is about as likely to get a call back for a job as a white man who has been recently incarcerated.

The more that we are able to remove our existing, albeit often-undetected biases from the equation, the more we’ll see a workforce built on true merit, equality, and civility.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you benefited from anti-discrimination policies? Is this all just a bunch of “PC” hoopla? We want to hear your opinion — so tell us what you think in the comments below or by joining the conversation on Twitter!

Peter Swanson
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