Following the lead of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, state government is now agreeing to “ban the box,” a slogan for rules that prevent employers from asking about past criminal history on a job application.
In a display of bipartisan collaboration, Republicans and Democrats applauded as Gov. John Bel Edwards signed House Bill 266 into law.
The idea is to make it easier for former convicts to get a foot in the door for jobs. Obviously, this does not prevent employers from doing criminal background checks for sensitive jobs, or even from asking about former arrests and convictions in job interviews.
As the governor said, society has an interest in getting people who have finished their sentences into gainful employment.
“They can get integrated back into society with a better opportunity to get a job and become productive members of society,” Edwards said before signing the bill into law. “They’ll be taxpayers, if you will, rather than tax consumers because we know that people who cannot be employed typically remain dependent on state services.”
This bill does not apply to private businesses — only to state government. Its passage, though, was applauded by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who said New Orleans has hired 80 people who are going straight.
Those backing the bill include GOP-oriented groups like the Louisiana Family Forum. The group’s President Gene Mills noted church members are volunteers in the prison system.
“They work with men and women who come from all walks of life, and one thing we find in common is that the grace of God can occur anywhere, and it often occurs in our penal system,” Mills said. “You’ve got to believe in second chances, and you’ve got to prepare people for those second chances. It’s not a coincidence, and it can be done very intentionally.”
While we agree that this is a significant step, it’s also important to note its limits: In the real world, an employee can and should be honest with potential employers about past brushes with the law. It’s also vital that an inmate come out of prison able to read and write and compute, and preferably getting job training that can fulfill Edwards’ goals of creating taxpayers.
That is why we note that “ban the box” is only one part of the comprehensive program being pushed by civic leaders in the state from across the political spectrum. The Smart on Crime Coalition applauded passage of eight other bills, proposed by Democrats and Republicans, that will promote re-entry of former inmates into society in positive ways. Some authorize “re-entry courts” or other pilot programs to make the transition back into civilian life easier for inmates.
This is a large task, made larger in Louisiana by our high rates of putting young men in prisons.
They can come out as more accomplished criminals, or they can be ready for employment and the responsibilities of family life. We urge continued attention to education and training for inmates so that the larger aims of the “ban the box” movement can be achieved.