Nebraska Joins States Banning Employers from Asking Job Applicants About Criminal History

Gov. Dave Heineman signed a bill Wednesday making Nebraska the 11th state that bars employers from asking prospective employees if they have a criminal record. The prohibition is a provision in a law designed to reduce prison overcrowding. It removes a box that asks job applicants whether they have been arrested or convicted of a crime. Checking that box instantly keeps many job seekers from getting hired for the lowest-paid jobs.


In fact, unemployment among ex-convicts, studies indicate, can be as high as 75 percent. A study in New York City found applicants admitting they have a criminal record were 50 percent less likely to be offered a job. Not surprisingly, in one more impact of the racist nature of the criminal-justice system, black applicants with records were far less likely than white applicants with the same background to get job offers.

Besides banning the box, the Nebraska law also includes provisions for job training, mental health and transitional programs, reports Annie-Rose Strasser:

The bill passed with “little fanfare,” said a spokesperson for the Governor. It was approved by the legislature on a vote of 46-0.

State Senator Brad Ashford (D-Omaha), who authored the bill, said that the potential budget savings from helping keep people out of prisons was one of the keys to getting everyone on board. But he also said the state has been focused on criminal justice issues for a while—they started with juveniles—and that there’s been consensus from Republicans and Democrats alike on it.

Keeping ex-offenders out of the workforce is a guarantee of a high recidivism rate. That's something Nebraska can't afford. A report released last month found the state's prisons are collectively at 154 percent of maximum capacity and admissions are at their highest in 10 years.

The "ban the box" effort began in 2003 through the efforts of Linda Evans and the group All Of Us Or None:

“We organized six peace and justice community forums around the state [of California] where formerly incarcerated people testified,” Evans recalls. “It became immediately clear that fundamental discrimination based on our arrest and conviction records was our problem, and that we had to go after that.”

In addition to 11 states, some 56 local jurisdictions have enacted ban-the-box provisions.

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