A progressive campaign to make it easier for former convicts find a job is finding bipartisan support from some libertarian-leaning groups, though liberals remain skeptical of their new allies.
The Ban the Box campaign was started by progressive organizations in an effort help ex-convicts reintegrate into the workforce. The movement hopes to remove the application checkbox that asks if applicants have a criminal record. The libertarian Generation Opportunity (GenOp) believes the campaign makes ethical and business sense.
“People are coming together and realizing, both from the left and the right, that this is a human issue, its an American issue,” GenOp Senior Policy Analyst Jordan Richardson told InsideSources. “And its not something that needs to be a left or right issue because its an issue of morality as much as anything else.”
GenOp advocates for limited government and free market policies with a particular focus on the Millennial generation. It is among a handful of libertarian-orientated groups that have come out in support of the campaign.
The Ban the Box movement itself, however, is skeptical of the support. “I’m always weary or concerned when folks that don’t have my best interest get on our side,” Ban the Box Spokesman Manuel La Fontaine told InsideSources. “We have to go back and figure out what are people really trying to do. Are they really trying to support people or are they really just doing something to seem good?”
Freedom Partners also joined the campaign August 16 by encouraging its members to adopt the policy. Koch Industries decided April 2015 to join the campaign, as well. The Koch brothers have been a primary sponsor of Freedom Partners and GenOp, as well as other libertarian and conservative groups known as the Koch network.
“It’s both a moral and business issue,” Koch Industries said in a statement provided to InsideSources. “Banning the box has worked well for Koch Industries and has led to the hiring of individuals who are productive and dedicated employees. It’s also a proven way to remove barriers to opportunity for all Americans.”
“Ban the box is a movement, right, to end systematic discrimination faced by millions of people,” La Fontaine also noted. He added that it impacts many people “who are trying to to put their life back together.”
Richardson notes that at the forefront is the moral reasoning to support the policy. That everyone deserves a second chance at life. He does add that the policy also makes business sense in that companies are likely excluding valuable employees by just considering their criminal history as opposed to all their qualifications.
“They want the best employees possible and unfortunately a lot of good applicants are left at the door because they have to check the box that said they had a criminal record,” Richardson stated. “There is an untapped market of people who have valuable skills who can be a valuable addition to the workplace.”
Richardson adds that the policy doesn’t mean companies should never consider criminal history. The problem is the question comes early in the application process and people with criminal histories become excluded before the rest of their application can be considered.
“Having access to the criminal record is an important consideration to an employer and Ban the Box has never said you can never ask about it,” Richardson also noted. “What they do say is let’s not slam the door on their face and give them a chance and let’s look at their complete application.”
Nevertheless, Richardson believes companies and organizations should adopt the policy voluntarily. He opposes laws that mandate companies enact the policy for their own application process. Rather, he believes companies should be encouraged to support the idea.
“It should be a voluntary choice for a company, whether they want to ban the box or not,” Richardson noted. “While we can advocate and we can recognize its a good policy to have, we don’t believe the government should be in the business of enforcing how a company makes its hiring decisions.”
Others have expressed hesitation about current efforts to ban the box. Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn noted concern June 20 that the idea could open businesses to increased legal liabilities if a former convict they hired ended up committing more crimes. The National Retail Federation stated similar concerns last year.
New York City and San Francisco are among the cities that mandate through law that companies ban the box. Additionally, Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond have decided to ban the box voluntarily. It has not passed as a federal law.