One commentator says private employers can take action now to reduce the downstream effects on people who were formerly incarcerated. ban the box

One commentator says private employers can take action now to reduce the downstream effects on people who were formerly incarcerated.

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:

Mark Holden, GC and SVP of Koch Industries

Mark Holden, GC and SVP of Koch Industries

“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.”

You can read his entire piece here.

(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.

Felony convictions have a significant and long-lasting effect on the economy.

Felony convictions have a significant and long-lasting effect on the economy.

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 arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Court fees are just part of the downstream penalties assessed on formerly incarcerated people. (Infographic by Ella Baker Center for Human Rights)

Court fees are just part of the downstream penalties assessed on formerly incarcerated people. (Infographic by Ella Baker Center for Human Rights)

“Families and communities are our nation’s unrecognized re-entry program.”

When it comes to our nation’s prison incarceration numbers, a truer and more startling statement may never have been uttered. And those words highlight one of the stark realities that confront communities who welcome home family and other loved ones who have ended their term of incarceration. For in a nation committed to a criminal justice strategy marked by long terms of imprisonment, “time inside” is only one part of the long-term penalty assessed on inmates and their families.

The quote above was spoken by Zachary Norris, an attorney and Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, based in Oakland, California. I spoke with him in early May, mainly in regard to a report whose creation was led by the Ella Baker Center titled “Who Pays: The True Cost of Incarceration on Families.”

Zachary Norris, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Oakland, Calif.

Zachary Norris, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Oakland, Calif.

My interview with Zach Norris, and with many others, was spurred and supported by a fellowship I received from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. More detail about the Fellowship is here and here. And you should read more about the Quattrone Center here. Material from my research supported by those organizations will appear here and in an upcoming issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine.

A few years ago, I was able to cover a related topic thanks to a John Jay/Guggenheim Fellowship: the possibility for sentencing reform in Arizona and nationwide. A previous article that resulted from my coverage is here. This year, I’m following the story from the sentencing and prison setting—where such sentencing changes did not materialize in Arizona—out into the community, which must address the downstream consequences of prison sentences and multiple other penalties assessed on the formerly incarcerated person—and their families.

In the coming days, I’ll report more on what Zach Norris told me, and what some of those punishing realities facing communities and families are.

In the meantime, if you or someone you know has been affected by the returnee challenges, either personally, or in your expert experience as an attorney or otherwise, I’d like to hear from you. Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Infographic by Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Infographic by Ella Baker Center for Human Rights