Ban-the-box policy receives major attention across the USA: why following through is necessary to restore confidence in the justice system

Nationwide, over 100 cities and counties have adopted a policy commonly referred to as “ban the box”—preventing employers from tossing applicants solely based on a criminal past. Momentum for this life-altering policy has grown exponentially in recent months, but not fast enough. Regardless, this initiative has prompted much-needed talks about equality, social justice and a moral second-chance mindset necessary in today’s world. It’s crucial to understand just why banning the box matters to Dougherty Valley students and teachers alike, and why passing the currently stalled bill is the best way to go.

Banning the box, as the title implies, is the practice of removing the required tick-box off of job applications asking whether or not the prospective employee is a past convict, regardless of the severity of the crime. A popular misconception ascribed to the ban-the-box movement is that if employers do follow the trend and eliminate the box, they are somehow required to hire an ex-felon. This isn’t actually the case. Banning the box simply pushes the questioning upon former lifestyles further into the hiring process—to the common employee background check. This ensures that applicants aren’t immediately tossed out solely upon the basis of one mistake, rather their character and ethic as a person is assessed primarily, which is extremely important to do. And frankly speaking, every person makes mistakes. Most always, all people who commit a crime and are affected through ban-the-box are doing so under some kind of pressure. We never know the full story, and we shouldn’t jump to assuming one either.

Keeping the prejudiced box has deeper implications as well And often, Dougherty Valley students, caught up in a whirlwind of tests, grades and college—known dearly as the “San Ramon Bubble”—don’t understand the meaning of freedom, or just how lucky we are to have it.

“We live in a community like San Ramon, and we’ve been exposed to a pretty privileged lifestyle in which we don’t see high crime rates or anything, so it’s difficult for us to empathize with these convicted felons. So it’s important that we’re exposed to policies like ban-the-box, so we are better able to understand special circumstances and that everyone deserves a second chance,” said Keshav Raghu, a senior at Dougherty Valley High and a strong advocate for banning the box, and a member of the Dougherty Valley Speech and Debate Club who has debated this piece of legislation before.

Moreover, it’s important to understand how only specific groups of people are affected by the box as a whole. In fact, a poll conducted by The New York Times last February found that 34 percent of men with criminal records are non-working males between the ages of 25 and 54–a number that has grown recently, particularly among black men. And just as the U.S. disproportionately incarcerates people of color, minorities with a criminal record are disproportionately impacted by discrimination in the application process. Sadly enough, the amount of bias surrounding a criminal past, even the most minimal spur-of-the-moment action, can cost you your job, place in society and essentially, life. This is unacceptable and not the environment a large portion of the US population should have to live in. Everyone deserves a second chance.

“For people born in a primarily impoverished neighborhood, you’re often put into a cycle of poverty that’s really hard to escape. Your only option to put food on the table is to commit a crime, or to steal something. So a lot of times, the intent isn’t inherently bad,” replies senior Amisha Kambath, senior at Dougherty Valley High, when questioned about her stance on the controversial policy, and another member of the Dougherty Valley Speech and Debate Club who has debated this piece of legislation.

In fact, California is rather progressive when it comes to this matter. Most think felons or ex-felons should be severely punished for the rest of their life. However, when we delve deeper into the topic of banning the box, we realize that employing ex-felons has its own gains as well.

Economically speaking, banning the box creates a wider pool of employees to hire, and benefits America’s economy as well. It has been reported that allowing these people to work creates increased tax revenue for the government and, if recidivism (re-entry into a correctional facility) declines, it may actually decrease the cost to taxpayers through reduced prison and legal costs.

“When people aren’t allowed to receive stability through a job after they come out of prison, they’re much more likely to commit a crime and be convicted again. That not only harms these people, but increases what taxpayers have to pay,” states Raghu.

So, why does any of this matter to average high school students like you and me? It starts with stepping out of the same San Ramon bubble of issues that you think matter in the long run, but really don’t. Rather, we should be examining the problems and social injustices placed upon morally good people in the real world, ones which today’s youth can resolve through our advocacy.

“A lot of these abstract issues seem really big, bigger than something we can change. But being more ‘woke’ in general about what’s going on is so important because no one really understands how things exist today. Try and influence as many people as you can by being aware of the issues, and taking a stance,” Kambath suggests, responding to the lack of change concerning ban-the-box.

Look at the big picture. It’s not every day that it’s revealed there are repercussions beyond repercussions, that what is at the surface level isn’t what’s all. So think before you commit, and understand that there are people in the world who are suffering, solely because the world isn’t willing to give them a second chance.