by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor
Gov. Jay Nixon issued an executive order Monday to end an employment barrier that he has deemed to unfairly hinder the employment opportunities of formerly incarcerated individuals.
The executive order has the potential of directly impacting the lives of 16,599 Missourians on parole, as well as their families.
Last year, the state unemployment rate for those on parole was 44 percent. Comparatively, the Missouri unemployment rate is 4.2.
Nixon pointed out that many formerly incarcerated individuals have been automatically disregarded from consideration due to employment applications requiring job seekers to disclose their criminal history on the initial application.
The sweeping change will “ban the box” in state employment by removing questions about criminal history from the initial job application unless a prior criminal act would render a job applicant ineligible to perform the necessary job duties for the position.
“The action I’m taking today will ensure that state government continues to be a model for increasing economic opportunity, improving public safety, and strengthening communities,” said Nixon. “This is about fairness. Giving folks a fair chance to redeem their lives, support their families and make a contribution to their communities is a value we share as Missourians and as Americans.”
The executive order is designed to lessen the obstacles that have gotten in the way of applicants with a criminal history trying to enter the workforce and take care of their family.
About 96 percent of inmates who are serving a prison sentence will one day be released back into their communities. Accordingly, 30,664 of the 31,942 incarcerated individuals in 20 adult correctional institutions in Missouri will eventually assimilate back into society.
Gina Hanna, founder and director for Beauty for Ashes Prison Ministry, said “This action by Gov. Jay Nixon is a big step in the right direction. Having to disclose criminal histories on job applications is a common hurdle that returning citizens from prison have to face. It is one of the many collateral sanctions imposed on convicted criminals long after they have paid their debt to society.
“Most of the women we work with in our prison reentry program have turned their lives around and desire to become productive members of society,” said Hanna. “They face challenges getting decent employment because of the stigma related to their past criminal behavior. In many cases, they don't even get a chance to be interviewed for positions they are well qualified for because the check mark in a box revealing their criminal past removes their application from the stack.”
In an attempt to level the playing field and lower the recidivism rates of these individuals, 21 states have implemented policies to “ban the box.”
This effort has spilled over to the private sector as well. Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Koch Industries, Starbucks and Facebook are among the number of companies that have adopted a “ban the box” policy.
“These men and women have paid their debt to society and are attempting to successfully return to their communities as productive, law-abiding citizens,” said Nixon. “By giving these Missourians a fair chance to get a job and support their families, ‘ban the box’ policies can help to break the cycle of crime and incarceration.”
Additionally, 45,830 individuals are on probation in Missouri. When it comes times for these individuals to make a job change, they too are put at a potential disadvantage. Nixon said his action is aimed to avert the growing unemployment rate of individuals with a criminal history in the state.