‘Ban the Box’ Comes to Utica

by Nay Briggs/Guest

The Ban The Box campaign definitely hits home for me and is catching fire in Utica. I had  the great  opportunity in April at Mohawk Valley Community College to join forces with other supporters of this fast-growing campaign and discuss the ways that it negatively effects our communities now, but more importantly how making this change would benefit our communities in the future — even for those without any criminal convictions. 

What is Ban the Box?
Ban the Box was initiated by All of Us or None to end structural discrimination against people with criminal  convictions and incarceration histories, primarily in the areas of hiring and housing policy. Its main goal is to remove this box from applications so it will create less of a probability that employers will  have predetermined judgments of people who, by law, must check that box.

Eliminating the box gives those with criminal records a higher chance of a) meeting an employer face-to-face and creating a positive first impression, b) being judged solely based on their qualifications and not predetermined judgements and c) gaining employment to help them remain productive members of society.

How can it help society as a whole?
By providing fair chances for people to find jobs and end the vicious cycle of criminal behavior within our communities. It gives parents with past records a chance to gain employment and pass work ethic on to younger generations. It also helps reduce the poverty levels in rural communities, and creates less of a need for public assistance and welfare programs that millions of tax dollars go to fund every single year.

In many cities and states,this is what you’ll see on the application:

Have you ever been convicted of a crime, offense, or violation of the law?
☐ Yes  ☐ No

When an inmate is released, you often hear Americans say that he’s “paid his debt” and can now become “a productive member of society.” But the reality is ex-cons pay for their crimes long after sentences end. On the outside, the stigma of incarceration makes it extremely difficult to land a job.

Picture this? You’ve just been arrested for possession and intent to sell. You’re convicted of a felony and sentenced to one year in state prison. During that one year, you get clean, you re-evaluate your life and make the decision to straighten up in order to become a good role model for your two sons at home.

They can’t keep you there forever, so eventually you’re released. Congratulations! You have now paid your so called, “debt to society”, and you can now go on and persue a positive life for yourself and family. You start looking for a job filling out applications.

Unfortunately, many employers immediately disqualify applicants who tick the “yes” box. Again, you must check yes, by law, or you could be brought up on charges, if hired, and sued for falsifying documents.

Now you’re left with bills to pay, mouths to feed and an overwhelming feeling of discouragement not only from the obstacles hindering you from becoming a productive member of society, but also those in meeting basic needs. In a desperate attempt to provide for your family you revert back to the lifestyle you were living in order to make ends meet.

Yes, it is possible to persevere through those obstacles and discouragement and become a productive member of society because I myself have a past criminal history am doing so today.

But I’m fortunate that all I have to look after is myself. The only mouth I have to feed and provide for is me. I couldn’t imagine the pressure that I would feel if I had children to take care of as well.

Ask yourself what you would do if you were faced with the same situation, where you have every intention to succeed, but the world around you has made obstacles to see that you fail?

There are so many benefits to this campaign and movement besides the ones I have briefly touched base on if you were slightly intrigued by this post, and live in Central New York.

If you would like to learn more about the ban the box campaign or any of the other programs I’ve mentioned I encourage you to visit the links below:

Ban the Box Campaign
Incarcerated Flavors Site – Facebook page
Mohawk Valley Freedom School Site – Facebook page (MVFS will be holding a class on Ban the Box September 24th)

Inesha Briggs grew up in Herkimer, NY. She is a social activist who felt compelled to challenge injustice after being incarcerated. Currently, she is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Communications with a focus in Community Development from SUNY Empire State College. She lives in Utica and maintains a blog, NotSoAverageNay, here.

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