Ex-Cons Set ‘The Daily Show’ Straight on Hiring People With Criminal Records

The ‘Ban the Box’ movement is gaining heat at the state and federal levels.
Oct 9, 2015·
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

Correspondent Hasan Minhaj quivered with fear on The Daily Show Thursday night as he repeatedly realized his interviewees had criminal records. Minhaj’s display of faux shock and horror illustrated just how irrelevant a criminal history can be when it comes to finding the person most qualified for a job.

That’s the idea behind the international “Ban the Box” campaign, which aims to remove the box an applicant has to check when applying for a job if he or she has a criminal record. Research has shown that men who disclose their criminal record on job applications are about 50 percent less likely to get a second interview or a job offer than those without a record—leaving people who are trying to rebuild their lives out of luck and out of a legal way to earn money.

More than 100 cities and counties nationwide have enacted legislation that prohibits employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history early in the hiring process, according to the National Employment Law Project. As Minhaj learned from New Jersey House of Representatives Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, who opposes the “Ban the Box” movement, employers are able to do a criminal background check after the first interview, so it’s not as if business owners are in the dark about the past of potential employees.

“Ban the Box” has even reached the federal level: On Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved a bill by a voice vote that would prohibit federal employers from asking for applicants’ criminal history until they are prepared to make an offer, CQ Roll Call reported.

Criminal justice reform advocate Glenn Martin and attorney Daryl Atkinson of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, both of whom spent time in prison before turning their lives around, told Minhaj that the campaign is essentially about giving people an opportunity to move beyond their worst moment or mistake.

“We’re trying to take the past, leave it in the past, and give the employer the chance to see [the applicant] for who they are now,” Martin, founder and president of criminal justice reform organization JustLeadershipUSA, told Minhaj. “I want to get more Americans back to work.”