WASHINGTON, D.C. – Bipartisan legislation cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to expand job opportunities and reduce recidivism has moved one step closer to becoming law. The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs today unanimously passed the Fair Chance Act, which requires federal contractors and federal agencies to “ban the box” on job applications. Reforming hiring practices has widespread support from both public and private sector institutions. Eighteen states, including Ohio, and more than 100 cities and counties have already begun to implement fair chance hiring practices that prevent job applicants from being asked about prior convictions until later in the hiring process.

“All Americans deserve the opportunity to earn a living and make a positive contribution to their communities,” Brown said. “Fair hiring reforms give people who are trying to turn their lives around a chance to and reenter the workforce without continuing to be punished for their past mistakes. With the support of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, this bipartisan legislation is one step closer to becoming law.”

“Ban the box” refers to the section on job application forms that inquires whether the applicant has ever been convicted. For the more than 70 million Americans who have criminal convictions, this barrier to employment so early in the hiring process can serve as categorical disqualification, and limits their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Studies have shown that an inability to find employment is one of the leading causes of reoffending. 

Cities and counties across Ohio, including Cuyahoga County, Hamilton County, Summit County, Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Massillon, and Youngstown have already “banned the box” for government employment applications. Many of the nation’s largest employers, including Walmart; Target; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Koch Industries; Starbucks; and Home Depot, have also opted to “ban the box.”

Under “ban the box,” employers would retain the ability to inquire about past convictions or conduct background checks regarding a potential employee before making an employment decision. Positions related to law enforcement and national security duties and positions that require access to classified information would be exempted.

The Fair Chance Act is supported by The Center for Urban Families, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and The National Black Prosecutors Association.

Brown continues to advocate for the rights of people with records. In May, Brown led a group of 25 of his Senate colleagues in a letter urging President Obama to expand job opportunities and reduce recidivism by taking executive action and requiring federal contractors and federal agencies to “ban the box” on job applications. Brown is also a cosponsor of the Democracy Restoration Act of 2015, legislation that would restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated individuals. The bill aims to help Americans who have served their time successfully reenter their communities.