This decade may mark one of the most significant shifts in popular thinking about criminal justice issues. Those shifts implicate every stage of the process, from policing, to charging and sentencing, to release terms, and to those many invisible penalties often visited on formerly incarcerated people.
There is no monolithic view of these topics. But there does appear to be growing consensus that a mass-incarceration and lifetime-penalty approach has not served society well.
Another example of that came in Saturday’s Arizona Republic, where attorney Mark Holden penned an op-ed recommending that private companies voluntarily adopt ban-the-box in their hiring practices.
Don’t know what ban-the-box is? Here’s Mark:
“Right now, most employers require job-seekers to check a box on an application if they have any criminal record. Too often, this can function as an automatic ‘application denied’ for individuals with a blemish in their past.”
“Nationwide, some 650,000 incarcerated individuals rejoin society every year, and they desperately need jobs to help them transition back into society and to provide for themselves and their families. But the criminal record box often shuts them out of the job market before they can get a foot in the door.”
(In an awkward headline difference: The print version is titled simply “Ban the Box: Have You Ever Been Convicted of a Crime?” Meantime, the online version has the pretty inflammatory headline “Arizona businesses should hire felons (or at least stop immediately asking them about their records)” Um, not quite, Arizona Republic. But nice try.)
What makes this especially interesting is Mark’s day job—he is the general counsel and senior vice president for Koch Industries. Yes, that Koch Industries, of the famed and very conservative Koch Brothers.
Understand, as Holden makes clear, Ban the Box does not mean employers entirely omit the felony question from the hiring process. But instead of being asked the moment an applicant begins the process, the question is delayed until later in the process—by which time an employer may have found that the person’s skills and personality are a great match for the firm.
This stance is another indicator that the chasm between viewpoints may be shrinking a bit between civil libertarians and those concerned about the massive costs society incurs when incarceration effects continue long after a person is released from prison.
If you have a view into the downstream effects of incarceration, I’d like to talk to you for a possible story. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow @azatty