CLEVELAND, OH – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced new legislation to expand job opportunities for people with records and decrease recidivism rates by reforming hiring practices to “ban the box” on job applications. While cities like Cleveland have already implemented this practice, Brown introduced legislation that would prevent some job applicants from being asked about prior convictions until later in the hiring process.

“Fair hiring practices help ensure that people who have served their time can reenter the workforce without continuing to be punished for their past mistakes,” Brown said. “Once these Americans pay their debt to society, they deserve a second chance to start their lives over, provide for their families, and contribute to our economy. This legislation would give them – and their families – that chance and help to restore hope and opportunity to those who have served their time and paid their dues to society.”

During a press conference at the Blazing Bistro in Cleveland, Brown was joined by Andrew Genszler, President and CEO, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, Bryan Mauk, manager of Blazing Bistro, and Sarah Reed, an individual with a record who now works at Blazing Bistro, to discuss the importance of employment to reduce recidivism. The restaurant is operated by Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, which conducts a culinary training program for people who are homeless and formerly-incarcerated.

“Because of our belief in second chances, LMM was proud to be an original catalyst for “ban the box” here in Cleveland and we know it works,” said Genszler. “We’ve seen firsthand many examples of how people with a record, given the opportunity, can shed the stigma, overcome obstacles and become contributing members of our community. LMM applauds Sen. Brown and the bi-partisan co-sponsors of the Fair Chance Act as a great example of forward-thinking, common-sense legislation addressing an important workforce issue.” 

Brown outlined the Fair Chance Act, bipartisan legislation which would require federal contractors and federal agencies not to ask about criminal history information until the final stages of the hiring process. It also includes important exceptions for national security, law enforcement, and positions for which criminal history information is required by law.

“Ban the box” refers to the section on job application forms that inquires whether the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime. 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.  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.

Eighteen states including Ohio have taken this step already.  Additionally, 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.”

The Fair Chance Act was introduced by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-NJ-7). Cosponsors of the bill include Brown, U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Joni Ernst (R-IA); along with U.S. Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA-49), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ-12), Cedric Richmond (D-LA-2), John Conyers (D-MI-13), and Bobby Scott (D-VA-3).

The legislation 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 and Booker led a group of 25 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.