Ban the Box? PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 21 June 2010 17:30

Its mission is brought up with only the best intentions, but many Michiganders are not feeling the same way. The proposal is simply titled "Ban the Box." Introduced earlier this month, Detroit's City Council has been laboring trying to draft up proposals to improve life on the outside for convicted felons. Headed by Ken Cockrel Jr, Kwame Kenyatta, and Charles Pugh, Detroit is looking to follow in the growing trend of other major United States cities. "Ban the Box" as it is known, looks to remove questions such as "have you previously been convicted of a felony" from job applications.

Detroit City Council members claim that due to the nature of the question, former criminals are severely disadvantaged and need help being assimilated back into society. These people have every reason to feel this way, mainly because Detroit is home to tens of thousands of released criminals that were given a second chance at life. Proponents of the bill are focused on getting these people back into the workforce, off the streets, and away from the source of their trouble.

Groups that were created to assist released felons obtain jobs are awaiting the day Detroit rids itself of the felony question from job applications. This is because assistance programs can only do so much and get people so far, if the question is banned criminals can get farther in the application process without being immediately discriminated against. This is Detroit's City Council's biggest fear. The bill would however require a background check further along in the application process. With this check up later on, employers will be able to see if these people are indeed just as qualified as everyone else to do the same job.

The city of Lansing is also drawing up a similar proposal that would ban the felony question. In addition to Michigan cities of Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, major U.S. cities including: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, not to mention the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Minnesota and New Mexico.

Opponents of the proposition say that the banning of the question would endanger law abiding citizens. This could also threaten the people who are required to work with these rehabilitated felons. These opponents state it would be important for current employees to know when they are working with a former criminal, especially one recently released from serving time.

The "Ban the Box" initiative had started to gain legs in Michigan, and many grassroots organizations have emerged in support as well. Those in favor of "Ban the Box" argue that getting your life back together and finding a job are hard enough for a convicted felon; removing the felony question from resumes would help greatly to those who want to move away from their past. The "Ban the Box" movement does not absolve recently released criminals, but gives them a better chance in advancing in the employment process. Safety and family groups say infrequent background checks will not be good enough, and that employers should take even more precaution. With more and more momentum, (especially in Detroit) Michiganians could soon be skipping the box altogether.


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Michael Raley is a fourth year Sociology and Public Administration/Public Policy student at Michigan State University. He is especially interested in the public policy, politics, and sociology of urban space, as well as transportation systems and public transit. A native of the Grand Rapids area, Michael is currently an intern in the office of State Representative Roy Schmidt, who represents the west and northeast sides of the city. He also aspires to pursue a career in urban and regional planning, and hopes to attend graduate school for such a course of study.

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