Posted August 12, 2014
Washington, DC— Yesterday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed legislation known as “ban the box,” making New Jersey the 13th state in the nation to remove questions about an applicant’s criminal record from job applications, and the sixth state to apply the policy to both public and private sector employers. The legislation does not prohibit employers from asking such questions but only requires that they postpone them to later in the hiring process, so that job applicants with records have a fair chance to be considered on their qualifications first.
“Governor Christie’s embrace of fair-chance hiring reforms shows that bi-partisan support for this movement is growing,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “His support affirms the need to expand fair-hiring policies not only in the public sector but in the private sector as well. These policies make good sense, and we know that many private companies agree because they already have adopted these fair-hiring practices.” Target, Walmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond are among the national corporations that have removed questions about criminal history from their job applications.
Governor Christie issued the following statement in support of the legislation, The Opportunity to Compete Act (A1999): “This is a state that believes . . . that everyone deserves a second chance in New Jersey, if they’ve made a mistake. So, today, we are banning the box and ending employment discrimination. And this is going to make a huge difference for folks who have paid their debts to society, who want to start their lives over again and are going to have an opportunity to do just that in our state.”
By extending the fair-chance employment policy to private companies, New Jersey joins Illinois, Minnesota, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, as well as major U.S. cities such as Baltimore, Buffalo, Seattle, Philadelphia, Rochester, and most recently, Washington, D.C. A fair-chance bill is now under consideration in New York City. A total of 13 states have implemented fair-chance policies, along with almost 70 cities and counties.
Throughout the country, policymakers from both sides of the aisle are working to become “smart on crime” by reducing criminal justice spending and recidivism at the same time that they increase public safety. An estimated 70 million U.S. adults have a criminal record that may prevent them from finding gainful employment. Creating a fair chance for all job seekers to be considered first on their qualifications helps open opportunities for marginalized communities and ensures the broadest applicant pool for employers.
In New Jersey, advocates from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ) led the effort to enact fair-chance hiring legislation, working together with clergy and the employer community. Jerome C. Harris, Jr., interim president and CEO of NJISJ, issued a statement applauding the leadership and hard work of the legislative sponsors—Senator Sandra B. Cunningham and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman—and recognizing that the final bill, which was scaled back from its original version, represents a “foundation to build on.” Mr. Harris said, “The Act sets forth a broad floor of reform, but not a ceiling. We look forward to a larger conversation about how to remove unfair and overly broad barriers to employment for redeemed individuals so as to expand the pool of available workers, ensure that the best-qualified person is matched to each position, and strengthen New Jersey’s economy.”
The movement recently received another major boost when it was embraced by President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. The President’s Task Force 90-day progress report, which lays out a comprehensive plan to address the racial and economic inequities that plague boys and young men of color, recommends “implement[ing] reforms to promote successful reentry, including hiring practices, such as ‘Ban the Box,’ which give applicants a fair chance and allows employers the opportunity to judge individual job candidates on their merits as they reenter the workforce.”
In addition to the New Jersey legislation, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal is poised to sign an executive order delaying conviction-history inquiries for public employment. LA Voice, a faith-based coalition dedicated to improving the lives of all Angelenos, partnered with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Curren Price, Jr. to introduce fair-chance legislation in Los Angeles.
To help advocates and policymakers tap into this national momentum and initiate fair-chance campaigns in their communities, NELP has released a new comprehensive online toolkit.