Los Angeles bans criminal history checkboxes on job applications

On Friday, Mayor Eric Garcetti signed into law a ban on criminal history checkboxes on job applications in Los Angeles. The law is certainly controversial with employers and workers concerned about working alongside potentially violent convicts (or concerned with other misleading stereotypes about former inmates), but advocates point out how it’s a crucial step toward reintegrating convicts into society.

Legislation like this, known as “fair-chance hiring laws,” is not new, but it has rarely extended to the private sector. This new Los Angeles law applies to all private businesses, except firms with fewer than 10 employees. Similar laws in other regions have only prohibited employers of government-funded agencies from discriminating based on criminal history. In fact, according to the National Employment Law Project, of the 24 states with fair-chance hiring laws, only nine extend to the private sector.

It’s worth noting that the new law will not ban L.A. employers from conducting thorough background checks once they have made a conditional job offer to a finalist, but at the very least, they will have gotten to know a candidate and consider his/her qualifications and character, as opposed to immediately writing them off because of their record.

According to Think Progress, Los Angeles is just the 15th local jurisdiction to extend ban-the-box thinking to private firms, and among the five largest American cities, Houston is the only other to do so.

Over the past few decades, the federal government, as well as individual states, has increasingly cracked down on employer discrimination on the basis of sex, sexuality, race, and ethnicity, but as more details of the long-term implications of our nation’s mass incarceration crisis come to light, progressives are increasingly cracking down on discrimination against nonviolent offenders. It’s worth noting that Department of Justice (DOJ) statistics from 2013 reveal that only 8 percent of federal prisoners were sentenced for violent crimes, while a staggering 48 percent were sentenced for nonviolent drug crimes and 11 percent for immigration conflicts.

Mass incarceration is a uniquely American problem if you look at statistics from around the globe, and unfortunately, it’s just one layer of an overarching problem that employing more former inmates would help to address over time. America has just 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies.

While in Portugal, Norway, and other European nations, emphasis is placed on rehabilitation over punishment, in America, incarceration is pretty much just chapter one, as a criminal record will essentially forbid convicts from returning to mainstream society. They will be denied access to the social safety net and public housing on top of facing discrimination from landlords and employers.

Ultimately, without access to any resources to help get their lives back on track, and with no means to get back to work and lead a self-sufficient life due to discrimination, former inmates are more likely to relapse and continue costing taxpayers, as they weave in and out of incarceration. Massive criminal justice reforms are needed, but in the short-term, helping former inmates get jobs to take care of themselves is a start.