For ex-offenders, getting a job can be the difference between successful reintegration into society and going back to prison. But many in our county and in our state who have criminal records struggle with significant barriers to employment.
That’s why the Athens County Reentry Task Force applauds the state’s decision to remove the question on some public sector job applications that asks candidates about their criminal history. (This doesn’t apply to all public sector jobs and doesn’t apply at all to the private sector.)
Job seekers with criminal records are more likely to be unemployed. This isn’t necessarily because they lack the skill, dedication or discipline to be a productive employee. Many times, their unemployed status is because of their rap sheet, even in instances when a crime was minor, happened a decade ago or had nothing to do with the job in question.
And with 1 in 6 Ohioans having a criminal record, that’s 1.9 million people who struggle to land a job. As a result, many of these individuals and their families fall into poverty. This is one of the reasons the Athens County Reentry Task Force, made up of a long list of community partners, was created. We work together to help ex-offenders overcome barriers (employment is one of many).
Ohio is the 17th state to implement this practice, known as “Banning the Box,” in reference to the checking of YES or NO when asked if ever convicted of a crime. This now gives job seekers with a record the opportunity to prove themselves to an employer through the interview. Studies have shown that personal contact with a potential employer will reduce the negative effect of a criminal record.
This doesn’t mean the employer is entirely in the dark. Candidates are still expected to mention the offense during the interview. Employers can still run a background check. The employer can decide not to hire a person based on their criminal history. And in some cases, the law already states certain crimes automatically disqualify someone for a particular type of job. But, for a position where that doesn’t apply, job seekers will no longer be automatically disqualified by simply checking a box.
The policy change only applies to public-sector, civil-service jobs. Because the potential for positive outcomes are so great, we hope this policy expands to more jobs in Ohio, including the private sector.
Why? It’s quite simple. Removing barriers to employment increases the likelihood that a qualified person will land a job. And working people help the economy. More people working in our communities translate into higher income and sales tax revenues. Employment reduces recidivism, meaning those individuals are less likely to re-engage in illegal activity. Employment helps stabilize families and rebuilds relationships.
It’s also the right thing to do. Individuals who have served their time and rehabilitated themselves deserve a second chance. We encourage Ohio’s employers, public and private, to implement fair hiring practices and “Ban the Box.”
Scott Zielinski, Co-chair
Athens County Reentry Task Force
About the Athens County Reentry Task Force
Formed in 2009, the Athens County Reentry Task Force is made up of community partners who work together to help ex-offenders transition back into society and become independent. The Task Force recognizes the need for a coordinated approach geared toward building and supporting a range of collaborative community programs to address the barriers to self-sufficiency in an effort to reduce crime, recidivism and improve public safety.