With all the extinction-level f*ckery taking place on Capitol Hill at the moment, it can be difficult to remember at times that America’s 45th Official Political Goat Rodeo, as captivatingly horrible as it might be, is not the only news worth paying attention to at the moment. Nor are other newsworthy political happenings so uniformly awful as what is transpiring at the federal level.
For example, California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent signing of what’s known as “ban-the-box” legislation, which will prevent employers from requiring applicants to admit to prior criminal convictions on their initial employment application. Given that an estimated one in three adults in the state have some form of arrest or conviction record, and are – as per usual – low-level, disproportionately black and Latino ex-offenders, this is a big step in not only reducing recidivism, but in reversing discrimination more broadly against ex-cons and people of color.
‘[This bill] will eliminate barriers to employment, reduce recidivism and give people with conviction histories an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to become productive, contributing members of our society.’ – Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, lead author of the ‘ban-the-box’ bill
This isn’t the first step that California has taken towards expanding opportunity for the states ex-cons; this current “ban-the-box” bill is building off the success of 2013’s AB 218, which applied the same rules to government employers. Los Angeles also passed its own version of the legislation for private employers, which took effect in January. All three laws state that employers cannot conduct any sort of background checks on prospective employees until after they’ve been extended a job offer, which offers them greater protections under America’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines.
According to the EEOC, employers can be found in violation of anti-discrimination laws if it can be determined that “screening people based on criminal records is having a disproportionate impact on people of color,” according to Beth Avery of the National Employment Law Project. Additionally, those who feel they’ve faced discrimination as the result of an employment background check can file a complaint with California’s fair employment agency, which they would not be able to do if denied a job based on their initial application.
“There are people who are struggling with old convictions not related to the job, but who are still being denied employment,” according to Avery. “The problem is applicants are being denied at step one of the process. They have no chance to point out, ‘Hey, this is what happened.’ Employers just see that box checked.”
The desire to remake one’s self in light of past hardships and mistakes is as fundamentally human as any other. To deny people their right to do so is to deny them the right to life, liberty, and most especially, the pursuit of happiness. California’s bold step in allowing its ex-cons the “right to be forgotten” by a society that views them as irredeemable upholds their ability to make that pursuit in a way that would make our nation’s founders proud.
This was originally posted at Pink Elephants.
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