Banning the Box: Can Ex-Offenders Break Into the Job Market?

Ticking just one box on a job application could have serious consequences, according to a lecture given during Kingston University’s Race & Ethnicity Matter Week.

Dr. Joachim Stibora of the School of Social and Behavioural Sciences spoke Tuesday morning about Banning the Box, a movement supported by former PM David Cameron to remove the disclosure of one’s criminal record from an initial job application.

In the UK alone, more than 10 million people have criminal records, and 60 per cent of all ex-convicts end up re-offending within the first year of their release, which the ban’s proponents say could be reduced if they are employed and supported by their incomes.

US President Barack Obama signed a similar memorandum this year to prevent the disclosure of this information on federal job applications, as a criminal history has been shown to be a detriment to applications filed stateside as well.

“Employers know there are different kinds of people around: smart ones, dumb ones, honest ones, dishonest ones, hardworking or lazy, convicted or un-convicted,” Stibora said in his lecture.

“Of course, we don’t observe directly if someone is convicted or un-convicted.”

However, shielding employers from seeing this information isn’t always effective in getting ex-offenders the job, he said.

“Because they have to make a judgment with less information, they avoid groups likely to be ex-offenders, such as black men, because they have a higher likelihood of being convicted,” he said.

He also noted a correlation between the areas that voted for Brexit and the areas where banning the box was less effective.

“Typically the areas with the lowest amount of immigrants voted for Brexit, and banning the box is less effective in areas like this,” he said.

Stibora then highlighted research to show that this change hasn’t been completely effective in the states, either: one case study showed that white job applicants with equal qualifications received 7 per cent more call-backs than black applicants, but, once the box was banned, they received 45 per cent more call-backs.

Stibora concluded that it was too soon to make a judgment as to whether or not banning the box made the job market better or worse for ex-offenders, and left attendees wondering what type of fixes would really help.

Stephen Paul Delsol, an attendee and lecturer himself, agreed.

“It’s too early to make any conclusions about it — it’s very recent and you have to have cause and effect,” he said.

“Banning the box is just one piece of the puzzle.”

Andrea Marchiano


Do you think banning the box will help in the UK and beyond? Let us know in the comments section below.

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