“There is no glory in punishing.”
When Michel Foucault first published those words in 1975, he invariably took a stand against the prison industrial complex. The prison system is a trap, and remains a trap for those unlucky enough to be incarcerated long after they leave prison walls behind. In establishing the ban-the-box policy UC-wide, the UC system has taken an admirable stand against this trap.
Criminal records place a burdensome social debt on individuals who have completed their allotted time, making it incredibly difficult to find work. Led by the Underground Scholars Initiative, the ban-the-box movement has been an ongoing push to remove the job application check box that asks if applicants have a criminal record.
As with so many other progressive policies, UC Berkeley became the first UC campus to institute the policy, and now thanks to USI efforts, ban-the-box will take effect UC-wide as early as October.
In spite of growing evidence that suggests little to no difference in job performance between people with prior convictions versus people without, formerly incarcerated job applicants are often passed over.
In that regard, banning the box is a no-brainer. Of course, with job applicants still subject to background checks, the problem hasn’t completely been solved.
Unfortunately, this policy has an insidious underbelly. Banning the box can often lead to decreases in hiring of demographic groups that employers assume would be more likely to have a criminal record.
A recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research by Jennifer L. Doleac shows that ban-the-box policies decreased the probability of being employed by 5.1 percent for young, low-skilled Black men, and 2.9 percent for young, low-skilled Latinx men. The consequences of ban the box can often manifest in stark and grotesque hiring discrimination.
Hiring discrimination against formerly incarcerated folks undermines the potential of an incredible array of diverse applicants, all of whom only want to work. If the UC wants to take this step, it has to see it through and make sure not to use criminal background checks on its potential employees. Instead, hiring should be done on the merits of the applicant.
Further, in light of the academic work uncovering the complex nature of hiring discrimination under ban-the-box policies, the university needs to create systems of internal review to keep discrimination out of the hiring system. UC administration must also be transparent in its hiring data and frequently release information to that end.
Above all, formerly incarcerated folks on campus actively made ban the box happen from the bottom up. The formerly incarcerated community understands the intricacies and snares of the prison system. It’s on the UC to follow their lead.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.