Do not ‘ban the box,’ but many felons deserve opportunity to work

Guest Editorial
We can’t speak for Marty Whitehead’s job skills or qualifications, but he knows how to present an argument well. The Jackson resident has written several clear, well-reasoned letters in the Citizen Patriot in the past, arguing his past criminal history should not limit his future prospects.

Others who agree with him take that argument a step further. The “Ban the Box” campaign that began this month supports legislation to prevent employers from asking job seekers whether they have a criminal past. The “box” in question is the one you check on a job application if you have ever been convicted of a felony.

Our view is that “Ban the Box” goes too far. Employers should have the ability to choose people based on their past actions. A criminal record — unlike age, religion or gender, as examples — is within a person’s control. Those who do the hiring have a right to information they deem relevant.

However, this campaign should have real value, to raise public awareness of the difficulty that felons face in finding work, and the fact they can be productive workers.

The state Department of Corrections and Michigan Works already encourage businesses to hire those who have served their time. To look at Whitehead’s example, he committed crimes years ago and has since gotten an education and stayed out of trouble.

He also has not worked in years. That is troubling on an individual level, but also for a society that prides itself on providing opportunity to all. There should not be a law that “bans the box,” but we hope employers in this community do not close their eyes to the possibility of hiring felons when they still can do the job.