It’s a little square box, but when occupied by a check mark it can usher an individual into a much bigger box – one that comes with stigma and debilitating roadblocks to job and housing stability.
The Ban the Box campaign, also known as A Fair Chance for All, aims to remove questions about criminal history from applications for employment and housing.
The Metro Council voted 6-0 Thursday to approve a resolution removing questions about individuals’ criminal history from applications for positions with the regional government. While the box had effectively been removed from the recruitment process at Metro through executive order, the Council voted unanimously in favor of the resolution, joining Multnomah County and the Portland City Council on the list of local governments to adopt the change.
"We really need to give everyone the opportunity to be employed," said Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick. "This is one of the first steps to a much larger strategy as we move forward on the equity outcome of our six desired outcomes."
"The box" may be a component of applying for work that many job seekers breeze by with little thought. But for many of the individuals who have to check that box it can be a first impression that supersedes any skills or experience they might bring to a position.
"In Oregon about 32,300 people are currently either in prison or under community supervision," said Midge Purcell, director of advocacy and public policy at the Urban League of Portland. "Currently – so when you look at that number year-on-year, it extends exponentially."
Discrimination based on criminal history disproportionately impacts communities of color, Purcell said. While African Americans make-up just two percent of the population in Oregon, they make up 10 percent of those incarcerated in the state.
"Another important fact to also recognize in this is that unemployment within communities of color is almost always double that of the general population," Purcell said. "That’s even when the economy improves."
The resolution is one short-term action identified in a greater Equity Baseline Report put together by the Equity Baseline Workgroup, in collaboration with the Equity Strategy Advisory Committee.
"We wanted to ensure that Metro did all it could to address some of the most pressing issues faced by impacted communities, and the issue of employment is one of them," Purcell said.
Banning the box will not eliminate Metro’s practice of background checks during the hiring process, but it allows applicants to be judged on their professional experience, not their personal past; comparing an applicant pool strictly based on individual merits.
"When I was a kid we used to talk about someone paying their debt to society. The idea that when people make a mistake, perhaps they are incarcerated, but when they’ve done their time they come out they’ve paid their debt and that should be accepted as such, and be given the chance, given the second chance," said Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen at Thursday’s meeting. "And this resolution helps ensure that that takes place."
An earlier version of this article included an error. The Equity Baseline Report was put together by the Equity Baseline Workgroup in collaboration with the Equity Strategy Advisory Committee. This version has been corrected.