Baltimore's new "Ban the Box" law does little to address employment discrimination against ex-offenders. In fact, the moniker "Ban the Box" itself is an epic public relations blunder. Even supporters of the initiative are forced to admit that the legislation doesn't in fact "ban" anything but simply postpones criminal history inquiries until later in the hiring process.
In addition, both preliminary research and conventional wisdom indicate that "Ban the Box" legislation might actually contribute to ex-offender unemployment rates. Since employers are not allowed to inquire about criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment is made, employers may make fewer conditional offers of employment to those they suspect have criminal histories. African-Americans make up a disproportionate amount of the prison population. Therefore, African-Americans without criminal history may not receive job offers for fear that the offer will need to be rescinded once a criminal background check is completed. As a result, African-Americans without criminal histories may potentially be impacted by "Ban the Box" legislation.
There are costs associated with the employment process; time equals money. Employers do not like to waste time interviewing potential employees that they may later find are not suitable for hire.
Serious efforts to address ex-offender employment must address the negligent hiring tort. In fact efforts to address ex-offender employment issues should mirror the efforts of those who sought to address the court rulings that established a standard of strict liability for pit bull owners and implicated landlords when pit bulls attack. Pit bull advocates provide the perfect blueprint. Here, advocates sought legislation to protect pit bull owners and landlords against civil liability exposure. In that vein, ex-offender employment efforts would be better served by lobbying for employer protections when an employer hires an ex-offender. Limiting an employer's exposure would encourage employers to hire ex-offenders without fear of judgments that on average exceed $1 million. This protects employers and promotes hiring.
The writer is a policy adviser for MEND (Moving Ex-offenders in New Directions).
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