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A Job for Many Formerly Incarcerated People is Only a Box Away

Over half of formerly incarcerated people applying for jobs stop filling out an application when they get to the question “have you ever…” (c) 2015 AP M. Spencer Green


By Amanda Caffey SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — In the United States, over 2 million people are incarcerated, 4 million people are in the criminal justice system and over 20 million have been through the system. That leaves 16 million people who have gone through the system, served time and are reintegrating into society.

However, as they look to again get acclimated with everyday life, many leaving prison struggle to find jobs because they have to check a box on applications indicating they have been convicted of a crime.

A national campaign called “ban the box” is looking to stop that trend. The campaign is working toward policy that prevents employers from asking applicants about their criminal record until they have been given an interview or a conditional offer of employment.

Global Incarceration

Source: World Prison Brief

The Center for Community Alternatives (CCA), a criminal justice advocacy group in Rochester, Syracuse and New York City,  has been advocating for the campaign in New York state for over 30 years.

“The point of ban the box is to give people at least a chance to put their best foot forward,” said Marsha Weissman, CCA founder and former director.”The person’s talents and skills can stand for themselves.”

Earlier this year, Syracuse passed a law removing the box from applications for any jobs contracted with the city. Though Weissman said the law is a step in the right direction, CCA is still pushing for a strong “ban the box” in all of Onondaga county and for higher education institutions.

A formerly incarcerated person, speaking on the condition of anonymity for personal reasons, said he has faced discrimination since he was first charged with a crime. After getting into a fight with someone and violating his parole, he said, despite having now prior criminal history, his parole officer only saw him as a criminal. He served six months and has been treated unfairly because of his criminal record, he said.

“Not everyone who goes to jail is bad or is a criminal,” the anonymous, formerly incarcerated person said. “I think the system sucks, it really does.”

Through CCA’s program in the Onondaga County Department of Correction, the formerly incarcerated person met a case worker who helped him find a job after finishing his sentence.

CCA Director of Reintegration Services Michael Pasquale said more needs to be done to reintegrate former prisoners back into society.  

“Sometimes we put too many barriers up that prevent people from being successful after being incarcerated,” Pasquale said.

CCA works with hundreds of people a year, but Pasquale said there are hundreds more the organization has to turn away because it does not have the resources to help everyone.

“There’s more success stories that should be out there,” Pasquale said.