Ban the Box Isn’t Working for Ex-Offenders

Prison Cells


Ban the box isn’t working, but few want to train offenders for employment self-sufficiency or issue them certificates of rehabilitation.


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University


Most of us who work with offenders understood that “ban the box” efforts would never work. Employment for offenders is approximately fifty percent.

Ban the box prohibits potential employers from asking about a person’s criminal history at the initial stage of application. If offered a position, employers can check.

Employers insist that they are not a social services experiment; they are there to make a profit. They want to hire a person who will do the job with as little disruption as possible.

For many positions, they are vulnerable to lawsuits for hiring the wrong person.

Credit Checks

Employers commonly use criminal histories and credit checks as well as a history of employment to ascertain worthiness for the job.

I’m unaware of many (any?) offenders who have good credit along with reasonable explanations for employment gaps.

Many offenders understood this from the beginning. They saw ban the box efforts as condescending.

“Nobody’s giving me a job based on ban the box,”

In October of 2016, we wrote:

“Nobody’s giving me a job based on ban the box,” said the offender about to participate in a podcast about criminal justice issues. “It’s all BS designed to make me feel that people care.” If people really wanted to help those coming out of prison, they would have given me what I needed in prison, or they would be helping me now (he was under parole and probation supervision). “It’s all endless crap.”

Talking to hundreds of people in prison or on parole and probation gives you a unique perspective. Offenders can be brutally honest.

While the rest of society see current or former criminals from the viewpoint of the endless horror stories on the evening news, most offenders understand who they are and their chances for a productive life.

Many know that they are challenged individuals with drug and mental health histories with insufficient job backgrounds.

Most don’t want to be involved in crime. Most understand that drugs will destroy their souls. Most acknowledge that they had dysfunctional or abusive parenting and they will spend the rest of their lives trying to escape their upbringings.

Spend time with offenders and they tell you that they understand what it will take for them to lead productive lives.

They also understand that government, politicians, and advocates see them as pawns in a larger game.

Encapsulating the comments of many offenders: “Politicians, ministers and those who say that they are trying to help us are full of crap. They come up with ban the box when we know that banning the box is meaningless. The employer is still going to check my background and run my credit score, so I’m not getting the job anyway.”

“What I need is job training and help kicking drugs. Get me sober. Give me skills that people will pay for regardless of my background. Find me work. The rest is bullshit.” See What Offenders Think.

What Will Work

Offenders need two things that will improve the chances for successful reintegration:

Thet need certificates of rehabilitation issued by the courts or prisons or parole and probation agencies. But with very high rates of recidivism, see Offender Recidivism, most jurisdictions won’t touch it. They won’t take the chance that a “rehabilitated” offender won’t blow up a convent.

They need to be taught employment self-sufficiency. Offenders understand that few people are willing to hire them. The best path is to start their own businesses. Waxing cars or doing lawn services or whatever they are skilled at is a thousand times better than hanging out in the neighborhood. This effort should be an integral part of any reentry effort.

Ban The Box Evaluations

“Ban the box” laws, which bar employers from asking job applicants whether they have a criminal record, may be harming some of the people they are intended to help.

Twenty-nine states prevent state and sometimes city and county employers from including a criminal history box on job applications. Nine states have extended the ban to private employers as well.

The idea behind the laws is that removing the box stops employers from immediately rejecting a candidate with a record before meeting him. If granted an interview, the applicant might be able to make a good impression and perhaps explain his conviction before the employer uncovers it.

But several recent studies have found that black men, even those without a criminal history, are less likely to get called back or hired after a ban the box law is put in place. Researchers suspect that employers who can’t ask about an applicant’s criminal background preemptively weed out young black men, who disproportionately have criminal records.

One study of ex-offenders in Massachusetts found that regardless of race, people with criminal records were less likely to get jobs after ban the box than before. The authors of that study theorize that in the wake of ban the box, which became law in Massachusetts in 2010, employers may have raised the minimum requirements for job applicants, and that more ex-offenders, emboldened by ban the box, may be stretching for jobs they previously thought were out of reach.

Pew-Ban the Box


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  1. Kim Rodecker says:

    Look into Edward Chrostowski who is running for Mayor of Cleveland ohio right now.
    He has never been in any political office yet runs the Edwin foundation that teaches ex cons the restaurant business from ALL angles, including management.
    Here’s a man that actually helps former prisoners learn a line of work and how to run a business.
    Perhaps the writer can help this man Edward Chrostowski who is running for Mayor of Cleveland actually get the job cause he wants to open more of these training centers in Ohio.

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