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Returning Citizens Seek a Second Chance

Former Inmates, Prosecutors and Others Favor 'Ban the Box' Law

Stacy M. Brown | 7/9/2014, 3 p.m.
As a returning citizen, Southeast resident Cliff Wallace said there are two concerns that stay at the forefront of his ...
The unemployment rate of formerly incarcerated offenders one year after release may be as high as 60 percent and there's an increasing reluctance among employers to hire people with criminal histories. (Courtesy of the Harbrinetwork)

Surprisingly, some hiring firms and employers agree with the proposed, ‘Ban the Box,’ law. “Absolutely ban the box,” said Yvette Kaplinsky, owner of the Texas-based Kaplinsky Insurance and Financial Services which has clients in the District.

“By limiting legal employment, we push people into illegal employment to live. We not only then continue to punish the person who has served their time but we also punish the innocent families that they need to help support,” Kaplinsky said.

However, one employment lawyer said while on its face, “Ban the Box,” may be good for returning citizens, she isn’t sure if employers will appreciate the legislation.

“The one concern that I have as an employment lawyer is that it’s not clear whether an employer who follows these laws and hires a candidate is protected from a negligent hiring claim if the candidate then commits a crime that in some way hurts other employees or the public,” said Janette Levey Frisch, of the Emplawyerologist firm in Edison, New Jersey.

Silver Spring attorney Anthony Reischer also argued against the “Ban the Box” law.

"It is ironic that regulatory authorities require me as an employer to attest to my previous criminal record. I am required by the State Bar Association to attest to having no prior criminal record to become a licensed attorney. It makes zero sense that the same conditions that are imposed upon me as an employer would then be considered unlawful were I to impose these same requirements on my employees," Reischer said.

Currently, Reischer said his firm pulls credit and criminal background reports on all potential new employees to determine their suitability to work at their organization. "This allows us to determine whether there is past history of a potential employee. This is normal
due diligence to prevent against future losses due to criminal behavior,” he said. “A legal restriction on an employer to prevent them from engaging in the most basic of due diligence to determine whether a potential job candidate committed a prior felony will only expose employers to increased business and litigation risk."

Still, returning citizens like Boone Bergsma of Northwest, said the law may prove to be a big help.

“I was released from jail during the beginning of the economic collapse in 2008 and I found it nearly impossible to find work,” Bergsma said. “When I was applying for work and had to check the box, that was a problem.”

For former inmate No. B27321, without the new law employers will continue “barring you from all, but the most menial jobs,” rendering all returning citizens to being just a number.

“So, here you are. Hungry and cold,” said Wallace, former inmate No. B27321.

“Would you not consider another crime? You’ve already paid your debt, you’ve been to hell. You’ve been where men prey upon men and life is valued in snack cakes and cigarettes. So what would you do if you can’t get a job?”