‘Ban the Box’ and Background Checks

President Obama is taking his mission to reform the criminal justice system a step further with the newly announced 'Ban the Box' initiative.

Nina Fenton
Published on

It has been a pretty big week for criminal justice reform as thousands of prisoners were released from federal prisons. The buck doesn’t stop there, though, as President Obama announced that he is “taking action to ‘ban the box'” on job applications and delay background checks in an effort to aid individuals with criminal records with their reentry into society through employment.

Federal Agencies Lead the ‘Ban the Box’ Initiative

Federal agencies will be leading the way as the President has tasked the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to make a list of modifications to their rules regarding hiring former felons. Most importantly, federal agencies will delay conducting a background screening on applicants until later in the hiring process. These steps are being set in place as a way to offer all applicants, regardless of their criminal histories, a fair shot at obtaining a job.

President Obama isn’t suggesting that federal agencies and civilian run businesses completely forgo conducting a detailed background check on applicants, though. Instead, he’s simply suggesting that the scales be balanced a bit more in the hopes of granting worthy candidates the same opportunities that those without a record would have. After all, there isn’t a set rule declaring all felons to be unfit workers and incapable of being reformed.

“It is relevant to find out whether somebody has a criminal record. We’re not suggesting ignore it,” President Obama said supporting his stance. “What we are suggesting is that when it comes to the application, give folks a chance to get through the door. Give them a chance to get in there so they can make their case.”

‘Ban the Box’ Fact Sheet

In an effort to encourage the success of the new initiative, the White House released an informative fact sheet detailing the various facets involved to “help promote rehabilitation and reintegration.” Among those listed are:

Adult Re-entry Education Grants

The Department of Education is set to award upwards of $8 million to 9 communities in an effort to support former felons in their desire to further their educations. The funds allocated will dispersed over the next three years and is said to be a critical element for successful entry into society.

Banning the Box in Federal Employment

President Obama has called on Congress to join the mission to aid former criminals in obtaining gainful employment. Congress is said to be considering a bipartisan legislation that would effectively remove specific sections from job applications for federal positions.

“Now, the federal government is a big employer, as you know, and like a lot of big employers, on many job applications there’s a box that asks if you have a criminal record. If you answer yes, then a lot of times you’re not getting a call back,” President Obama said to the audience at a criminal justice forum held at Rutgers University. “We’re going to do our part in changing this. The federal government, I believe, should not use criminal history to screen out applicants before we even look at their qualifications. We can’t dismiss people out of and simply because of a mistake that they made in the past.”

Expanding tech training and jobs for individuals with criminal records

Over 30 communities across the nation are joining forces with President Obama’s TechHire initiative as a joint force to aid those with criminal backgrounds in obtaining invaluable job training and skills through fast track programs.

Early Support

‘Ban the Box’ is in the early stages of being implemented with quite a ways to go before it’s successfully implemented on a federal level. However, it’s receiving a positive flow of early support from advocates of criminal justice reform as well as from the handful of states already working the initiative into their hiring processes.

Kevin Gay is the CEO of Operation New Hope and the creator of Ready4Work and has seen first hand how difficult it can be for former felons to transition back into society after being incarcerated. His experiences have made him a huge supporter of the “Ban the Box” initiative. He said, “President Obama’s move to ban the box will benefit everyone: families, employers, communities, and of course people with records. The facts are clear: returning citizens who find jobs are far more likely to stay out of prison. And we can’t rebuild families and communities destroyed by incarceration if people who leave prison end up right back behind bars when they are released. Banning the box is an essential step to reducing incarceration rates in the United States.”

President of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Richard L. Trumka is also praising the initiative. He said, “Unfortunately, too many hardworking and high qualified men and women are finding their path to success blocked by a system that is rigged against them. Measures such as ‘Ban the Box’ are the right approach to ease the job hunt for working people with prior convictions.”

There’s Still Work to Be Done

President Obama may be wrapping up his time in office, but that doesn’t mean he intends to spend his last year on the job twiddling his thumbs like some of his predecessors. Instead, he is making criminal justice reform one of his top priorities and doesn’t plan to stop at the thousands of drug felons freed from federal prisons. “Now, right now, there are 2.2 million Americans behind bars…We incarcerate people at a rate that is unequaled around the world. We account for 5 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of its inmates. They are disproportionately black and Latino,” he said. “More than 600,000 inmates are released each year. Around 70 million Americans have some sort of criminal record – 70 million. That’s almost one in five of us. Almost one in three Americans of working age…It’s bad for the communities that desperately need more role models who are gainfully employed. So we’ve got to make sure Americans who’ve paid their debt to society can earn their second chance.”

If that’s not some food for thought, we don’t know what is. Have you or a loved one been impacted by a simple check mark on a job application? Tell us about your experiences or sound off with opinions in the comments section below!


Nina works hard to be a voice to the voiceless whose stories about drug testing, DNA testing and paternity deserve to be told. It is her goal to always come from a place free of judgment and full of compassion.


Nina works hard to be a voice to the voiceless whose stories about drug testing, DNA testing and paternity deserve to be told. It is her goal to always come from a place free of judgment and full of compassion.


Background Screening

Read Health Street's informative articles about background checks.


Background Screening

Read Health Street's informative articles about background checks.