Groups call on President Obama for Executive Order
Close to one third of adults, many of whom are women, currently have a criminal record. This means that routine background checks will bar them from various employment opportunities. Networks of organizations and individuals that work on behalf of formerly incarcerated individuals and their families, aim to change that.
“The discrimination caused by asking about past convictions and arrests on job applications isn’t just felt by those with criminal records — but also by their families and communities,” says Harriet Davis, a registered nurse and formerly incarcerated person. “Right now, President Obama has the chance to give people like me — mamas, papas, brothers and sisters — a fair chance at financial and social stability after prison.”
Davis works with Strong Families, an organization that supports women, youth and their families. The group is one of many that are seeking policies to ensure that both federal agencies and those that contract with them do not discriminate against persons with criminal records. Their hope is to “ban the box” on applications for employment that ask a potential job applicant if they’ve ever been convicted.
“I’m a formerly incarcerated citizen and I was affected by “the box” myself,” said Jamond Bourgeois of New Orleans. “Once I checked that box, I’d never get a call back from that employer, and that was a way to discriminate, I believe, against formerly incarcerated citizens,” he said.
Bourgeois is an organizer with the Micah Project, a state-based org that works with 30 New Orleans congregations, as a network to provide resources to those in need. He was one of 11 people from various organizations who traveled to the White House in late May to call on federal lawmakers and Pres. Obama to “ban the box.” The delegation, organized by PICO, a national network of faith-based organizations, wants the President to issue an Executive Order on the issue, saying that federal agencies and contractors should “judge job applicants based on what they can offer today, not crimes they committed in the past.”
The delegation was part of PICO’s “Live Free Campaign,” designed to address the root causes of pervasive violence and crime through the creation of meaningful and quality opportunities, according to the group’s website. A fair chance at employment opportunities provides one such meaningful opportunity.
“The federal contracting issue is putting people in horrible positions because they cannot hire me,” said Jose Osuna, currently the Director of External Affairs at Homeboy Industries. Osuna said that he still gets calls from prospective employers, even though he spent 13 years in California State Prison, based on his resume prior to his imprisonment.
“We wanted to see some movement of polices and bills that have been under review that can provide relief to formerly incarcerated citizens; we need some action on these items,” said Bourgeois, speaking of his Washington, DC trip to speak with lawmakers. “And we wanted to talk to different senators and their coworkers and we just needed to have assurances that they understand what’s going on [with the formerly incarcerated] and hopefully, we can count them as allies,” he said.
Akim Lattermore, a member of a PICO-affiliated organization who also traveled to Washington, DC, put it most succinctly. “You can’t resolve policy issues surrounding fair hiring and the formerly incarcerated unless you have those impacted in the room,” he said.