Thursday, April 9, 2015

Is it time to 'Ban the Box' in Canada?

by Samantha McAleese, PhD Student, Sociology, Carleton University

In previous posts I discussed the destruction of the pardon program and the ongoing backlog of pardon applications at the Parole Board of Canada, and have written about the negative impact of both of these developments on safe and successful prisoner re-entry. Unfortunately, despite flooding the mailboxes on Parliament Hill, there has yet to be a response from the government about how they plan to help the thousands of individuals who are waiting for an end to their punishment, if at all.

When I worked in the community, the number one reason why people came to me for support with their pardon applications was so they could find meaningful employment. While there are certainly jobs in the community that can be obtained with a criminal record, this employment is typically precarious, low-paid, and without health benefits and/or pension plans.

In speaking with people about their struggle to find work, I often heard things like, “I can’t even get a job at Wal-Mart” or “The interview was going really well until they asked me if I had a criminal record”.  This constant disappointment encountered throughout the job-search process is extremely discouraging for a lot of people.

Given the lack of support for people with criminal records from the current government, I have started to think more about community-based solutions to this issue.

In February 2015, The New York Times published a story that profiled Michael Mirsky – a man living in New Jersey who has now been unemployed for more than 30 months due to his criminal record. The article outlines the scope of this problem, describing the impact of criminal record check policies on the economy and on public safety. The author also provides readers with information about a national movement in the United States to ban the box - The name refers to the box that job applicants are sometimes required to check if they have been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanour”.

The campaign was started by the group All of Us or None in 2004, and to date “over 45 cities and counties, including New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, and San Francisco have removed the question regarding conviction history from their employment applications” (Ban the Box – About).

Individuals, employers, and organizations across the United States involved in the Ban the Box campaign pledge to:

  •       open up employment opportunities for people with past convictions;
  •       welcome people back to the community after release from jail or prison;
  •     institute fair hiring practices concerning past convictions; and
  •     eliminate any restrictions on membership, volunteer or Board participation       that may exclude people with arrest or conviction history.

This grassroots movement acknowledges the important role of employment in the reintegration process and recognizes the valuable contributions that all individuals can make to their communities – regardless of any previous involvement with the penal system.

So, is it time to ‘Ban the Box’ in Canada? Are there other initiatives you are aware of that challenge the stigma of criminalization? Please share your thoughts with me at --

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