The costs of a criminal conviction last well past the defendant's release from prison. It even extends past the last day of their probation.
People who have been convicted for a crime in the past can struggle to get a job. They are often faced with a no-win decision where they can either:
- Disclose their criminal background on job applications by checking a box and almost guaranteeing themselves a rejection, or
- Lying on the application and hope their employer never runs a criminal background check, risking termination if they are ever hired
Numerous states have joined the “ban the box” movement to reduce this problem by prohibiting employers from asking about a job applicant's criminal history.
Now, the federal government seems poised to join the movement, too.
The Fair Chance Act Has Passed Congress
The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019 – or just the Fair Chance Act – was proposed by the late Representative from Maryland, Elijah Cummings. Like similar initiatives in states like California and Connecticut, the bill would prohibit the use of the ubiquitous box used on job applications that ask job applicants if they have ever been convicted of a crime. Some of those boxed sections even ask if an applicant has ever been arrested.
By gathering criminal background information early in the job application process, these boxes have allowed employers to screen out anyone with a criminal history, no matter how minor or trivial. The result: Many people who have been convicted for a crime struggle to get a job, live without a solid income, and return to crime to make ends meet.
The Fair Chance Act forbids both the U.S. government as well as anyone contracting with it from asking about a job applicant's criminal history until a conditional job offer has been made. By delaying this stage in the job interview process until the very end, the Act hopes that employers will be more willing to let qualified individuals work with them and overlook their criminal background.
Why the Fair Chance Act is Such a Big Deal
Gainful employment for people who have been convicted of a crime or incarcerated is a huge part of the reintegration process. People who are shut out of the job market can end up back in jail after they turn back to crime, perpetuating a vicious cycle.
That's why the passage of the Fair Chance Act is so important. It gives prior convicts a better opportunity to get a job with America's largest employer, as well as anyone who wants to contract with the federal government. It also pushes other states that have not banned the box on employment applications, like Pennsylvania, to take the initiative and pass their own law to help people with a criminal background reintegrate into society in a meaningful way.