News / USA

    US Job Seekers With Criminal Past Don’t Want to Be Boxed In

    US Jobseekers With Criminal Past Don’t Want to Be Boxed Ini
    X
    Carolyn Presutti
    March 22, 2016 3:33 PM
    Ex-offenders trying to find jobs face application forms that require checking a “yes” or “no” box saying whether they've ever been convicted of a crime. Checking "yes" excludes applicants from some jobs. But, as VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, civil rights and prison reform organizations are urging employers to "ban the box."

    The miniature yellow truck whirls around on the concrete, polished shiny by its wide wheels. Wade Tate grabs the steering wheel with both hands, glances behind him and maneuvers the truck backward, then abruptly forward, as its oversized fork scoops up a heavy box. 

    He programs it to lift: up, up, up, to the second level of shelving, where he gently places the box between two other boxes of differing size.

    For more than half of his life, Wade Tate couldn't even drive a car. That's because he was behind bars, serving a 25-year sentence after pleading guilty for two murders.

    "Everything I learned in prison, the trades I took, helped me to hold down a job like I'm doing today," says Tate. 

    For three weeks after he was released, Tate applied for numerous jobs but never got called back. "My goal was to get a job,” but with a criminal record, he said, “it is hard to get one."

    Ex-offender Wade Tate drives a forklift for DSI Warehouse in greater Memphis, Tenn. His boss says customers ask to meet Tate in person to offer thanks for his computer assistance with their orders. (C. Presutti / VOA)
    Ex-offender Wade Tate drives a forklift for DSI Warehouse in greater Memphis, Tenn. His boss says customers ask to meet Tate in person to offer thanks for his computer assistance with their orders. (C. Presutti / VOA)

    The application box

    Many U.S. job seekers face application forms that ask whether they have ever been convicted of a crime and require them to check a “yes” or “no” box. Checking "yes" immediately excludes applicants from some jobs.  

    But an international movement by civil rights and prison reform organizations is urging employers to "ban the box."

    Activists are pressuring municipal and state governments to reform the system. Just over 20 states now have some rules deleting the question from private or public applications. An applicant who passes that first round of winnowing still faces additional screening. Employers can ask the question in an interview and also conduct background checks. 

    A main proponent of “ban the box” legislation is Maurice Emsellem, program director of the National Employment Law Project.

    "I think there is overwhelming support for rolling back all the damage that was done over the last couple of decades related to mass incarceration," says Emsellem. "The box has opened up a broader conversation about hiring commitments and policy reforms regarding former felons." 

    The Obama administration gave the effort a boost last November when it asked Congress to "ban the box" on federal hiring applications as part of a larger initiative on "rehabilitation and reintegration of the formerly incarcerated." 

    White House figures show 600,000 people are released annually from federal and state prisons. Getting their lives on track includes adjusting to family and neighborhood structures and supporting themselves financially. 

    Having the 'conversation'

    But the “ban the box” movement has its critics.

    The National Federation of Independent Business opposes a ban for several reasons.

    Mozloom says his organization is against banning the box for several reasons. One is practicality. Because they operate small businesses, "our members don't have a human resources department. They are the HR department,” says communications director Jack Mozloom. “The owners advertise the jobs, pull the applications, schedule the interviews and conduct them.  The ability to ask criminal records on an application saves time and money, which they don't have." 

    His members have nothing against giving prospective employees a second chance, Mozloom says.  But, "ban the box prevents the conversation from happening in the first place."

    The initial hiring application form for Kelly Generator & Equipment of Owings, Maryland, is in line with what "ban the box" advocates seek. It doesn’t include a question about a criminal background.  But owner John Kelly doesn't want to see the rules encroach any further. 

    Kelly says it’s bad business practice to keep information from a potential employer. He says a high level of trust – among him, his employees and their co-workers – has contributed to his company's success. 

    "You know, I would hate to hire a comptroller or somebody for the comptroller position who had gone to jail for embezzlement,” he says. “For me to not know that before I hire him and then have him in a position [with] a fiduciary duty, I mean, that's just ludicrous for us not to be allowed to know that.”

    Kelly says that individuals cannot erase their past and that the truth must come out before a hiring decision is made.  And, to make a proper decision, managers need as much information as possible. He doesn’t want the government to limit the ability to hire the best people for each position.

    Getting the chance

    Forklift operator Tate finished 14 weeks of classes through HopeWorks, a faith-based nonprofit that matches ex-felons with employers who will not view their criminal record as a deterrent. HopeWorks found Tate his job with DSI Warehouse of metropolitan Memphis, Tennessee. 

    Ronnie Martin started the company and has hired several ex-convicts.

    "I think felons have to prove to themselves that they can handle the job.  If they prove it to themselves, then they will prove it to me," says Martin as he helps load a box onto a truck. "I'd hate for someone to check my past too closely."

    Says ex-offender Tate, "If we don't ever get the chance, they [the employers] don't know how hard we will work."


    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.

    You May Like

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora