Imagine John Doe, who recently applied for a job and was turned down due to a criminal record. The allegation, which occurred years ago, led to an arrest but did not lead to a conviction. Despite this reality, the employer simply assumed that the existence of a criminal record suggests guilt on behalf of the applicant and prosecution on behalf of the state. In the end, John Doe was unjustly denied an opportunity because of a simple and yet detrimental assumption.

There are over 50 million individuals who have criminal records in the United States. Since September 11, 2001, there has been a growing trend on behalf of various government agencies to ensure public trust through the notion of transparency. In some cases, these “well-intended efforts” often diminish our rights to privacy, lead to public accessibility and disclosure of an individual’s personal information, and often result in various forms of “justified” discrimination toward certain members of society. In light of this trend, consider the following observations:

  • Are there any legal protections that prohibit employment discrimination toward those who have been accused (but have not been guilty) of engaging in criminal behavior?
  • Is it possible that the very obstacles that prohibit employment opportunities for these individuals may serve as contributing motivational factors of crime and recidivism?
  • How is community integration and involvement possible for those who are marginalized from employment opportunities at the expense of groundless assumptions?
  • With the need for economic increase and stability in the area, can we afford to not consider those who have been unjustly labeled and subsequently denied employment opportunities?

Let us consider the possibility of passing legislation that would open doors for those who are less fortunate. This may include requiring employers to ask about an applicant’s criminal record after being selected for an interview. This would afford both the applicant and employer an opportunity to discuss the details related to one’s criminal record, thus negating the possibility of presumptuous decisions.

Patrick Webb

professor of sociology