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California Group Asks President Obama to "Ban the Box"

Advocates for people in prison are asking President Barack Obama to ban the criminal history box on federal job applications. Credit: i_frontier/iStockphoto.
Advocates for people in prison are asking President Barack Obama to ban the criminal history box on federal job applications. Credit: i_frontier/iStockphoto.
July 23, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO – Advocates for prisoners incarcerated in California are asking President Barack Obama to take action to ban the question about criminal convictions on applications for federal jobs, and positions with federal contractors.

Their calls come after the president's recent comment that the country should "ban the box" on all job applications. Doing so would delay a criminal background check until the applicant has had a chance to prove his or her qualifications.

Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), says the national publicity has breathed new life into the group's campaign All of Us or None.

"For him to say it was really important," he says. "Some of us have been out here doing this work for 10 years trying to get a fair shake and a clean application."

California banned the box for public-sector jobs in July 2014. San Francisco has banned it for all jobs in the city, public and private. To the north, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed that state's "ban the box" legislation last week.

Nunn notes there are 70 million Americans with a criminal record who have a hard time even getting a job interview, which creates a permanent underclass disproportionately affecting people of color.

He says the focus in California is now on removing the question from housing, student aid and all private-sector job applications.

"The process would be a lot fairer," he says. "I don't think you can get to public safety through force and fear. I think it takes rehabilitation and forgiveness."

The American Civil Liberties Union is currently circulating a petition on the issue, which requires 25,000 signatures to force a government response. It has received 21,700 signatures so far.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA