Ohio Bans the Box

A message from the President & CEO Suzanne Coleman-Tolbert

On December 22, 2015, Governor John Kasich signed legislation that makes Ohio one of 20 states to ‘Ban the Box’ that asks about criminal backgrounds on job applications for public positions.  The legislation requires all public employers, including counties, townships, and municipal corporations, to remove questions about criminal convictions at the application level. The move, appropriately, won’t stop employers from finding out if candidates have a criminal conviction and considering it in the selection process, but it does give job seekers who may have had issues in the past, a way to advance through the initial screening in the job search process.

The Ban the Box movement isn’t new—nearly 100 cities and counties have adopted the policy. In fact, the City of Columbus removed felony conviction questions from job applications in 1995.*  But I do wonder if people really understand what a statewide ban means not just for men and women who benefit immediately, but for our economy as a whole.

Nearly 65 million people have a criminal record in the United States, according to The Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice. The Center for Economic and Policy Research released a study in 2010 that estimated that the U.S. economy loses $57 to $65 billion a year in lost economic input from those with criminal records. The costs of not allowing restored citizens opportunities to re-enter the workforce are staggering. Banning the box on this scale means that instead of having to rely on social services to get by, men and women with a criminal past will have a chance to really build a family-sustaining and community-building future. It means employers who often come to us saying they can’t find the reliable talent they need, will have a larger pool of qualified workers to choose from. And, it means that the chances of a fair-chance policy being enacted by private businesses and on the federal level are higher.

How do we know it will really make a difference? The early adopters are already seeing the results. In Minneapolis, where a similar move was made in 2006, more than half of applicants with convictions were hired by public employers, up from 5.7% in the two years before the box was banned. Durham County, N.C., saw the number of applicants with a criminal history recommended for hire almost triple in the two years after enforcing a similar policy. (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ban-the-box-makes-former-criminals-more-employable-2015-11-03 )

Locally, we are seeing a difference too. The Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio supports several programs at COWIC/ OhioMeansJobs-Columbus-Franklin County that address the employment needs of ex-offenders (who we like to call restored citizens). One of those programs is the City of Columbus’ Restoration Academy, a public-private partnership and six month program that provides paid work experience, training and other supportive services to people with criminal backgrounds. In the past 4 years, More than 130 men and women have completed the program and gained employment, and more than 80% have retained employment up to two years after graduation. Employers say one reason is that the graduates of this program are some of their best, most reliable and consistent employees. Had they not considered them, they may have never been able to benefit from their hard work.

Now that there is statewide legislation, advocates are hoping that fair-chance policies will be implemented on a federal level. With more states like ours joining the movement, it is possible. In the meantime, the door to a real, fair chance at employment just opened a bit wider in Ohio, and we look forward to seeing how it impacts not just individuals with criminal records, but families and communities throughout Columbus and Franklin County.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the City of Columbus ‘banned the box’ in October 2015. That was incorrect. Columbus banned the box in 1995.

Read more of our February 2016 Newsletter