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Politics & Current Affairs

It’s Time to Ban “Have You Been Convicted of a Crime?” from Job Applications

Seeing that box is a reminder that a life sentence is being served.

“Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”


Anyone who has applied for a job has likely encountered this box on an application. For most of us, it’s a non-issue — just check “No” and carry on. But for the 100 million American adults who do carry a criminal record, seeing that box reminds them that they are still serving their sentence.

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Michael Leo Owens, an associate professor of political science at Emory University, writes on why we should ban this question in an article for The Conversation.

He isn’t saying that we should ban background checks — just this initial question. Owens and even President Barack Obama share the belief that a declaration of a criminal record doesn’t give the decarcerated a fair shake at proving their worth. Instead, let their talents speak and then evaluate if their criminal record will interfere with their job performance. If employers take it upon themselves to take this question away from their applications, it may help reduce recidivism rates. He writes:

“While we need more studies of the employment effects of banning the box, there’s evidence from the city and county of Durham, North Carolina, for example, that banning the box works: It increases the chances that people with criminal records who want honest work can get it.”

Kwame Anthony Appiah argues that people are not sentenced to these punishments — they are sentenced to incarceration.

Read more of Michael Leo Owens’ argument on The Conversation.

Photo Credit: Doug Pensinger / Getty Staff


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