Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Box tells ex-convicts: 'Don't apply; if you do, lie

        Before discussing a sensitive subject, let us recite the Rotary Four-Way Test:

"Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?"

I'm not a Rotarian. I just like the Rotary Test for conduct.

If our actions met that test, this would generate no argument: As President Obama has done with federal hiring, every state should "ban the box" that effectively blocks an ex-convict from being considered by employers.

For those who think this is just one of those bleeding heart liberal fixations – Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders being strong supporters – Gov. Chris Christie signed a similar order for New Jersey, and Republican Sen. Rand Paul is one of several conservatives who've joined Democrats in supporting legislation that would seal the records of prior offenders.

If we can't ban the box, employers should step up to the plate and resolve the problem that it represents.

The box doesn't promote truth. It encourages a lie. The box isn't fair. It's presumptive and arbitrary. The box doesn't build goodwill. It shuts a door.

Without question, banning the box would meet the fourth part of the Rotary Test: It would benefit all concerned.

The Senate measure would prohibit employers from making applicants state up front if they have criminal histories.

Naturally, some employers want that prerogative. They'll say it's an efficient way to weed out undesirables.

Yep, presumptive.

Some employers say that marking the box doesn't mean automatic rejection. To a person trying to rebuild his or her life, though, it says one thing: "You need not apply; or if you do, lie."

As a teacher at the community college level, I can't tell you how many students I have met who were once behind bars.

They have committed themselves to personal reclamation. It pains me greatly -- and it should pain you, too -- to think that I would have pumped up these individuals' expectations about getting an education, only to have their hopes blocked by a four-sided shape joined at right angles.

The Colorado Center on Law and Public Policy says one in four Americans has some level of criminal history. Those who think the box affects few aren't thinking.

Not surprisingly, various business groups oppose a ban on the box, saying that it's unnecessary government meddling. But then, so are worker-safety measures and the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We follow those measures because, as the Rotary four-way test insists, it is beneficial for everyone.

The "box" prevents people from making good on their pledge to themselves, their states and their families to do right by society upon parole.

If we consider just one ex-felon and how a good job would make a difference, we cannot possibly rationalize how the box works.

Take away that man or woman's employment opportunities and you take away his or her family's hopes for betterment. What about the children and the role modeling that a fresh start for a parent can mean?

Block that parent from meaningful employment and we cast his or her children into a foreboding alley of uncertainty and bad choices.

Banning the box is the best way to disrupt the cycle of crime and to combat the poverty that normally sets it in motion.

If we are serious about doing something about that cycle, we will take this sound and smart move. Anything else fails the test. 

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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