1972: “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”

Ban The Box

convicted of a criminal offenseAs I indicated last week, my diaries for this segment of 1972 are, alas, gone. I did write about the incident a decade ago, but of course, the details get a bit fuzzy over the passage of time.

What has become more clear in the years subsequent is that I was very lucky. The district attorney wanted us to be charged with a misdemeanor after the IBM demonstration. That is to say, a crime. The judge decided that we would be charged with a violation. The significance of this has probably been enormous.

When I’ve applied for a job, for a loan, for graduate school, and who knows what else, there has often been The Question. “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” Fortunately, the answer has always been, honestly, no.

Who knows what the consequences would have been if the judge had not been, openly, sympathetic to our actions. And since we essentially had merely crossed a property line, there were no bad outcomes. Certainly, no one was harmed, and no property was damaged. I wonder now about the hundreds of folks in upstate New York, not to mention thousands upon thousands of people nationwide who have criminal records because of acts of conscience.

Ban the box

In part, this is why I have long been a supporter of what has been called Ban The Box. “Ban-the-box laws received their name because they ban the criminal history box on initial hiring documents. The goal of the ban-the-box movement is to promote job opportunities for persons with criminal records by limiting when an employer can conduct a background check during the hiring process and encouraging employers to take a holistic approach when assessing an applicant’s fit for a position.

From the National Employment Law Project (NELP): “Nationwide, 37 states and over 150 cities and counties have adopted what is widely known as “ban the box”… These policies provide applicants a fair chance at employment by removing conviction and arrest history questions from job applications and delaying background checks until later in the hiring process.” The link has a number of resources.

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