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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Opinion

‘Ban the Box’ bill could help millions


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Tamor Khan/The Cougar

When filling out an application, the ‘box’ checked for criminal conviction is one that many don’t think about. For others, it means an automatic rejection and an ongoing obstacle on the path to salaried, productive employment.

A bill introduced by Rep. Eric Johnson this legislative session would prevent state agencies from asking about an applicant’s criminal background until the interview stage, according to the Houston Chronicle.

It is wrong to automatically deny someone a job because of their former convictions. If someone did their time and paid for their mistakes, then they shouldn’t continue to face punishment.

House Bill 548, which would ‘ban the box,’ has created plenty of controversy, but it would help many people in Texas who are trying to get their life back together; it would also benefit the state, despite surrounding negativity.

“We do not want to see those people ever again back in our prisons where we’re footing the bill for all of their costs of living,” Johnson said to the Chronicle.

“We want those people working. We want those people not re-offending.”

According to the National Employment Law Project, or NELP, an estimated 65 million adults in the United States have criminal records.  If this bill were passed, millions of citizens could overcome barriers that prevent them from securing a job.

This is an issue throughout the country, and many have taken action to ensure equality for ex-convicts.

NELP reported that 16 states and over 100 cities and counties that have taken steps to remove barriers to employment for qualified workers with records and that six states and eleven cities, including Washington D.C., would extend their fair chance hiring policies to local private employers.

People deserve a chance to work a stable job, to provide for their families and to show what they are worth.

Although this is a crucial bill on equality, there are still many disputes among Texas legislators.

The bill wouldn’t allow for people to withhold information and ex-convicts would simply get the opportunity to have an interview and speak to an employer face-to-face.

They would still have to go through a background check if the employer decides to hire, so it wouldn’t be considered ‘withholding information.’

The bill would help people get a job based on their qualifications instead of their past.

According to the Huffington Post, a Pew Charitable Trusts study found that “of the seven million Americans (1 in 33) who were incarcerated, on probation or parole in 2010, more than 4 in 10 can be expected to return to prison within three years.”

Not only does this directly affect those incarcerated and their families, but it also affects the country with rising tax prices for prisons.

Because of our lawsuit-paranoid society, many employers reject people just because of an arrest record, no matter how small the conviction.

Hard-working, law-abiding citizens should not serve life sentences for petty mistakes they made in the past.

Chronic unemployment is real, and the lack of equal opportunity for employment based on prior convictions is a far-reaching form of discrimination.

People deserve the chance to explain their past convictions, rather than being tossed aside because of a checkmark in a box.

Opinion columnist Rebekah Barquero is a print journalism sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]

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