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Proposed 'Ban the Box' Law Aims to Help Clean the Slate for Ex-Offenders

January 31, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Several pieces of proposed state legislation this session are aiming to give ex-offenders a true second chance at living successfully in the community.

One, known as "ban the box," would require private-sector employers to remove questions about criminal history from their job applications. Sarah Walker, founder of the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition, says employment is a critical factor in reducing recidivism, but requiring ex-offenders to "check the box" about criminal background on job applications greatly diminishes any opportunity they have at getting the job. She says "ban the box" is about giving them fair consideration by employers.

"The message it sends is if you are willing, and you are ready to change your life, and you are looking for employment, you are going to at least be granted an interview, and we will judge you based on your skills and competency."

Each adult male kept from incarceration saves the state $35,000 each year, Walker says, and adds another taxpayer contributing to the economy.

The legislation is an extension of the 2009 Minnesota law to "ban the box" from public-sector employment applications. Since then, several other states have adopted similar laws.

Two years into a five-year prison sentence, De'Angelo Chester made the decision to turn his life around. He attended parenting classes, underwent job training and did everything he could to get ready for his return home. Full of optimism when he was released, he quickly got discouraged.

"I had the training for the jobs I was applying for, but since I checked that box as a felon, I wasn't getting no call backs. I was just getting 'Thank you, but we don't got any positions for you.' And so it was hard for me to go home every day and look my kids and my wife in the eyes."

Before losing hope, he turned to Good Will Easter Seals' prisoner re-entry program, and on Friday he graduated from their automotive training. Chester says he wants to teach his children that hard work pays off, and hopes state lawmakers will pass the law so that ex-offenders have a real chance to prove themselves.

Former Gov. Al Quie admits that when he was a senator decades ago, he wouldn't have dreamed of supporting the legislation. That changed 41 years ago when he started mentoring prisoners. He says having access to employment is critical for ex-offenders to rebuild their lives and their dignity.

"Never hide what you went into prison for at all, but to have to check the box that you have a criminal record before an employer will even look at you, that is wrong. The HR person needs to be able to look in your eyes to see what kind of character he or she sees there."

More information on the coalition's proposed legislation is available at mnsecondchancecoalition.org.

Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - MN