Legislation that prohibits public employers from asking about a job applicant’s criminal background was signed into law on Thursday.
The so-called ‘ban the box’ bill eliminates the box job-seekers are asked to check if they have criminal records. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said that the practice often denied ex-offenders any opportunity for a first interview.
HB 167 received bipartisan support, passing 31-8 in the House and 15-5 in the Senate. “Banning the box” was one of the criminal justice reforms proposed by Markell in his State of the State address earlier this year.
“We cannot accept the human tragedy that occurs when those who we incarcerate – who have the intention and ability to rejoin mainstream society – return to a destructive lifestyle because we erect barriers that deny them fair opportunities,” Markell said.
Rep. J.J. Johnson, D-New Castle, sponsored the measure. He observed that more than two-thirds of men and women in Delaware who are released from prison end up back behind bars within three years.
“Without a stable job, without regular income, we know that the person who has committed a crime before is more likely to do so again,” Johnson said. “A simple checkmark in a box can send a job application to the trash and send the person down a road we all want to avoid.”
The law permits consideration of criminal background after an applicant’s initial interview and does not place any requirements on private employers. Law enforcement agencies, the Dept. of Corrections and other positions with a statutory mandate for background checks are excluded from the law’s provisions.
“We want people to believe that they’ve made amends and they’ll have opportunity,” said Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, who co-sponsored House Bill 167. “I think it’s important to emphasize how many people don’t even apply because they know by checking that box their application will not be looked at.”
State agencies will make note of the policy when seeking out contractors to work with the state and encourage them to adopt the same practice, but won’t inquire if the contractors are actually implementing the practice.
“Ban the box” is a nationwide movement. According to the National Employment Law Project, 11 states have banned the box, not including Delaware. In addition, more than 60 cities and counties, including Philadelphia, have also embraced the practice.
“House Bill 167 is not a ‘hire ex-felons’ bill. This is a ‘foot-in-the-door’ bill,” Johnson said. “It gives otherwise-qualified individuals an opportunity to be considered on their merits first and their criminal histories second.”