By: Richelle Jurasek
What is THE BOX?
I am sure that most of you have faced the box at some point in your lives. My first encounter with it occurred when I was a young teen applying to the ice cream parlor down the street from my high school that I frequented so much already, I figured I might as well get paid to be there. When filling out the application, I came across the question that asks “Have you been convicted of a crime?” followed by the luminous, little square check box. Although I did not know it at the time, this little white box, a seemingly miniscule detail, actually could have been considered the most important and decisive component of my application, as it serves as one of the first filters that employers use to discard applications from the employment pool.
Why does it matter?
The box is not only found on applications for employment, but also on applications for college, loans, insurance, housing leases, and public services (like food stamps), all of which aid formerly-incarcerated people with reintegration into society. People are required to check the box if they have been imprisoned for more than 13 days, no matter how long ago in the past they were imprisoned nor what caused it. With incarceration rates reaching all time highs during the past decade due to the War on Drugs, and the three strikes and mandatory minimum laws, the National Employment Law Project estimates that one in three Americans will be discriminated against by “the box” question at some point in their lives. Thus, for the millions of people who are or were formerly incarcerated, this small, yet powerful box makes all of the difference in their ability to provide for themselves and their families and to create a stable life foundation.
This is why we need to BAN THE BOX.
What has been done?
The movement to end discrimination against people who are or were formerly incarcerated has already begun. The Ban the Box campaign, started in 2005 by the organization Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, has been picking up speed throughout the nation with ten states and more than 50 cities having officially banned the box. They recognize the importance of giving all applicants a chance to present themselves as qualified candidates based on personal characteristics, not based on a checked box that often incorrectly labels them as criminals.
What can YOU do?
Obviously, there is still a long way to go. Here are some suggestions for how to get involved with the ban box movement:
1. Start or join a Ban the Box campaign in your area. Resources
2. Sign the petition to support New Jersey’s Ban the Box campaign.
3. Spread awareness about the discriminatory nature of THE BOX