A message from Jason Hernandez, commuted by President Obama:
I am a former prisoner. I served over 17 years for a nonviolent crack cocaine offense.
Like millions of Americans who have done their time, I left prison fully committed to finding a job. I wanted more than anything to support myself and build a new way of life. But everywhere I applied, I saw that box: “Check here if you have a criminal record.” I found that employers were screening me out. I might as well have not applied at all.
The odds are hugely stacked against people with records like me. Checking that box slashes the likelihood of a callback interview or offer by nearly 50 percent. It can keep the 70 million people who have criminal records from getting a fresh start because too many employers won’t give returning citizens a fair chance.
President Obama made huge strides last November when we he banned the box on applications for federal jobs. But the President’s executive action does not address federal contractors who employ over 40 million people – that’s a quarter of the U.S. workforce.
I did finally get a job. I was really lucky. I know too many people who ended up back behind bars because they could never get that job, that foothold on a new life.
More and more businesses are taking up fair chance hiring policies. Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Starbucks, and Home Depot have banned the box on their job applications. And over a decade of activism pushed 19 states and more than 100 cities and counties to ban the box and embrace other equal opportunity hiring policies.
The federal government can also be a model employer. President Obama showed commitment to criminal justice reform by banning the box for federal employers. But we can’t celebrate victory until the criminal record checkbox is removed from federal contractor job applications.