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Ban the Box de-stigmatizes ex-convict employment

| Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On Friday afternoon in the Coffee House of Geddes Hall, Carolina Arroyo, associate director of undergraduate studies and a member of the political science department, joined Cheryl Ashe, founder of Ex-Offenders Information and Referral Services for a lecture as part of the Higgins Lunchtime Labor raps. The lecture, titled “Ban the Box: One Step Towards Re-Entry for Ex-Offenders,” centered on a recent campaign in South Bend to encourage employers to leave questions about criminal records off job applications.

“People that are released from prison and are trying to get back into society, if they can have jobs … won’t return to prison.” Arroyo said. Seeking to dispel the stereotype of “once a criminal always a criminal,” Arroyo referred to former criminals as “returning citizens.”

The Ban the Box initiative seeks to remove the criminal record box from applications of all kinds so returning citizens are judged on skill and possibly given the chance to interview.

Foreseeing common concerns, Arroyo quickly assured that the campaign, “does not require any employer to hire a returning citizen. … [It] does not prohibit an employers from asking the question. It simply asks employers to wait to give the person the chance to have the interview and then we can proceed.”

Arroyo said an interview gives returning citizens the opportunity to explain their criminal record and their current rehabilitation.

“This way people are not seen as criminal not criminal,” she said.

Ashe encouraged employers to perform background checks because it will show not only convictions but arrests.

“If you notice [the returning citizen] hasn’t been arrested after that last crime four years ago, then you’re pretty safe hiring that person,” Ashe said. “Why? Because trust me, any self-respecting drug dealer is going to have been arrested in four years if they’re still using.”

Ashe said the passage of the legislation for the Ban the Box initiative came surprisingly easily.

“Very much to my surprise, … it sailed through without even a formal vote. … All of the council members agreed … and we got Ban the Box,” she said.

While the problem of hyperincarceration is a complicated issue that needs a lot more, Arroyo said Ban the Box is a step towards reducing the amount of repeat offenders.

“We know for a fact that approximately 600 people are released from prison every year and return to St. Joseph County,” she said. “So we need to help them. They need jobs, they want jobs, and it’s an economic bonus for the county and for all of us as tax payers to have them be employed.

“It benefits all of us because if they don’t have jobs they have to find a way to make a living, so they’re going to return to what they were doing before.”

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Mercedes or Mercy either way now my name is associated with a car. I'm that person that just wants to see the world smile, and I hope to bring that joy to my writing!

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