Jobs are important, and trying to find one is among the most stressful experiences in life. (Yes, even more stressful than choosing a flavor at the Scoop Shop.) And for people who have a criminal record, their past all too often undermines their employment future, even after they've paid their debt to society.
Consider this: you’re searching high and low for job openings in your area. Finally – finally! – you find a few that fit your criteria. They’re close by, you have all the necessary qualifications, and they even look interesting. You start to fill out the applications. Name. Address. Past employment. Skills.
And then you get to the box: the check-box asking whether you have ever been convicted of a crime. You sigh and check the box indicating that yes, you have crossed paths with Larry Law in the past, but you've paid your debt to society and are now looking to move on with your life. But you know that by checking that box, you are likely reducing the likelihood that a hiring manager will give you a call back.
Who Gets Burned By the Box?
The fact is, there are more than 70 million Americans with criminal records, 20 million of whom – accounting for about 9% of the adult American population – have been convicted of felonies. By including a criminal record inquiry as part of the initial application process, employers significantly disadvantage the 1 in 10 candidates who have a felony conviction.
And asking candidates about criminal convictions in the initial application process impacts African Americans and Hispanics much more severely than white applicants, reinforcing deep racial and economic inequities within our society. Our country disproportionately incarcerates African Americans – at a rate 5 times that of white Americans. Roughly 25% of all adult male African Americans have felony convictions, meaning criminal record inquiries have a much larger impact on black applicants. Studies have shown African American men with a criminal record receive about 60% fewer call backs and job offers than candidates without a criminal record.
No Boxes Needed
At Ben & Jerry’s, we ended the practice of criminal record inquiries as part of the initial application process last year. The truth is, we should’ve done it sooner. We did it for two reasons. First, we did it because it became clear to us that the practice reinforced systemic racial and economic inequities. Secondly, we realized that requiring disclosure of a criminal record in the first phase of the application process stands in the way of our aspiration to build a diverse, inclusive and high-performing team.
We also have a more personal reason to get behind this issue. We have a close relationship with Greyston Bakery, a social enterprise in Yonkers, NY, that bakes all our delicious fudgy brownies, like the ones in Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Half Baked. Beyond making the best brownies under the sun, they are also a powerful force for change within their community. By hiring anyone who walks in the door looking for employment – regardless of education, work history, past incarceration, homelessness or drug use – they have given thousands of people hope and purpose, and have reinvigorated the local economy. We all could benefit from taking a page from their book.
Ban the Box, Vermont!
Last year, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed an Executive Order banning criminal background checks for state employment until a candidate has been found qualified for the position sought. Shumlin said, “This is about giving those who have paid their debt to society a fair chance at a good job. Nobody wins when Vermonters are trapped in a cycle of unemployment and re-incarceration.”
This year, we are supporting a bill that would take that law even further, banning the box from all employment applications state-wide. Everyone deserves a fair chance, and we think everyone should be able to find a job based on their experience, skills and qualifications, not their past mistakes.