Creating Open Competition in Employment

As securing employment greatly reduces recidivism rates and enhances public safety, NJISJ is committed to improving employment opportunities for individuals with criminal records.

The population of Americans facing barriers to employment due to criminal records is enormous: an estimated 65 million (or 1 in 4 adults) in the United States have a criminal record, including mere arrests.  The vast majority, even of those convicted, have never spent a day in prison.  Research has shown that after a period of law-abiding behavior individuals with criminal histories pose no greater risk of future criminality than do people without criminal histories.  Still, many employers have broad policies of refusing to consider applicants with criminal records, without any individual consideration as to the relevancy of the record to the position in question or the applicant’s subsequent, often longstanding history of good conduct and rehabilitation.

Many applications ask job candidates to disclose (by checking a box) if they have ever been convicted of a crime or, in many cases, even arrested. Frequently, answering “yes” to either question guarantees that the application will be thrown out and the candidate will not be considered at all.  The categorical rejection of all applicants with criminal records is inefficient and prevents 65 million Americans from having the opportunity to compete for work.

In response to this problem, NJISJ has taken the lead with other advocacy groups to introduce Fair Hiring (“ban the box”) legislation at both the local and state levels in New Jersey. Fair Hiring laws ensure fair employment application practices with respect to criminal history information. Criminal background inquiries are delayed until later in the hiring process, encouraging employers to focus on the current skills and qualifications of the individual, rather than automatically disqualifying an entire group. Such laws do not prevent employers from conducting background checks and do not override any existing laws placing restrictions on sensitive positions. They simply ask employers to consider the individual, weighing the criminal conviction along with other factors, including the nature and seriousness of the criminal history, the time that has elapsed, the nature of the position sought or evidence of rehabilitation.

It will increase public safety by giving people with criminal records the opportunity to compete for jobs that will keep them productive, self-sufficient, and out of trouble. It helps employers find the best person for the job by removing the distraction of criminal records that are not relevant to the job in question.

Newark Fair Chance Ordinance

On September 19, 2012, the Newark City Council passed a “Ban the Box” ordinance written by NJISJ and sponsored by Councilman Ronald C. Rice. At its passage, the Newark Ordinance was the most comprehensive and cutting edge municipal ordinance in the nation.

New Jersey Fair Chance Statute: The Opportunity to Compete Act

On February 21, 2013, Sponsors Senator Sandra B. Cunningham and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (in addition to others) introduced “The Opportunity to Compete Act,” a statewide Fair Hiring bill also written by NJISJ.  Following extensive negotiations with the Legislature, business community and Christie Administration, a final version of the bill was passed by the legislature on June 26, 2014, and signed into law by Governor Christie on August 11, 2014.

The enactment of this law was the culmination of a long, hard-fought campaign that mobilized a statewide coalition of legislators, mayors, clergy, and advocates.  Delaying the inquiry into applicants’ criminal backgrounds until after the first interview will afford applicants a foot in the door to meet potential employers face to face, presenting their skills and qualifications without the mark of past mistakes clouding the employer’s first impression.  This will change the common practice of screening out anyone with a criminal record, no matter how old or minor, and allow employers to find qualified employees whom they may otherwise have overlooked.  While the final bill did not include all of the provisions for which we advocated, it is one of only six such statutes in the country applicable to both the public and private sectors and its enactment is an important step in the direction of expanding opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals.  The Institute will continue the fight toward the next round of reforms.