Ban the Box Community Initiative Guide

Justice System Reform
Black checkboxes under large red circles with diagonal lines indicating "no."

What is Ban the Box?

Ban the Box

The “box” is that spot on many employment applications that asks whether the applicant has been convicted of a crime or been incarcerated.  Some employment applications may even inquire into arrests. A Ban-the-Box ordinance would remove these questions from the application at the initial stage of the employment process so the hiring authority will first get an opportunity to learn about the candidate’s experience, skills, and personality as they relate to the position to be filled. The Ban-the-Box movement began with All of Us or None, a grassroots civil rights organization with a national initiative to fight for the rights of formerly- and currently- incarcerated people and their families. SCSJ supports communities, municipalities, counties, and businesses as they move toward ban-the-box policies.

SCSJ published a white paper entitled The Benefits of Ban the Box: A Case Study of Durham, NC, which contains a wealth of information about the history of SCSJ’s successful Ban-the-Box initiative in Durham and its positive effects.

Why Does Ban the Box matter?

More than 1.6 million people in North Carolina have a criminal record and consequently face employment discrimination. Nearly 45% of those under Department of Correction supervision are African American, despite making up only 21% of the state’s population. Banning the box is crucial to ending job discrimination against this large section of our community.

Unemployment and underemployment resulting from criminal convictions not only affects those with criminal records, but affects their families and communities as well. If families of people with criminal records are going to heal, prosper, and contribute to our community, everyone must have an opportunity to obtain stable employment, housing, and education. Indeed, employment is the most effective tool to reduce recidivism (returning to prison), resulting in a safer community and lower cost to taxpayers.

  • Nearly one in three American adults has an arrest or conviction record that shows up in a routine check.  Many of these records are erroneous or out of date, involve minor offenses, or fail to reflect an individual’s successful rehabilitation.
  • According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, more than 90% of companies reported using criminal background checks for their hiring decisions.
  • African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.

Successful Ban-the-Box Campaigns

Several states across the country have enacted into law versions of “Ban the Box,” including Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Mexico.  Ban-the-Box campaigns have also been successful in cities and counties across the country.

In North Carolina, SCSJ led the first successful Ban-the-Box campaign in Durham, which led to the passage of administrative policies in the city and county governments.  Read about this initiative and its positive effects in The Benefits of Ban the Box: A Case Study of Durham, NC.

Since then, SCSJ has played a key role in the adoption of such policies in numerous North Carolina jurisdictions. As of February 2019, the following additional North Carolina counties have banned the box: Alamance, Buncombe, Catawba, Cleveland, Cumberland, Forsyth, Halifax, Henderson, McDowell, New Hanover, Orange, Rowan, Rutherford, Wake, and Wilkes. The following cities have banned the box as well: Asheville, Carrboro, Charlotte, New Bern, and Spring Lake.

Organizing Ban the Box

Grassroots organizing has proven essential in the successful campaigns to ban the box.  The key to mounting a successful campaign is to have a sound strategy for garnering community support for the measure, and to use that community support to influence local government officials.

Community Groups

A Ban-the-Box campaign should start with a community group with the resources and person-power to serve as the face of the campaign.  If there is not already a group in the community that is willing and able to take up a Ban-the-Box campaign, SCSJ could help organize such a group. The local community group should invest time and resources to ensure that the voices of directly impacted people are at the forefront of the campaign. In our experience, input from people with criminal records is indispensable in both community organizing and the development of an effective policy.

Community Meeting

A successful Ban the Box campaign should start by getting the broader community informed and involved.  Planning a community meeting is a great way to bring the issue to light and to identify groups and individuals willing to support the cause.  The use of fliers, the local newspaper, social media, and word-of-mouth will help bolster attendance.

Seek Endorsements

The community meeting should provide a platform for seeking involvement of community members who can help make the campaign a success.  Drafting an endorsement form will help build a stronger network of groups and individuals by obtaining personal commitments to further the campaign (e.g., through obtaining petition signatures,  reaching out to government officials, and obtaining endorsements from other organizations).  Look to allies who could form a core leadership group in the movement—such as directly impacted people and their families, clergy, law enforcement, and civil rights groups.

Create a Petition

A petition should be created and distributed to those willing to seek signatures.  Petitions are an important way for government officials to gauge the level of support behind a proposed ordinance.  The petition should contain information sufficient to inform citizens of the purpose of the measure and why it is important for the community. It is also a good idea for those seeking signatures to carry a fact sheet to provide more information.  The fact sheet should provide information on the incarceration and/or criminal record rates for the jurisdiction of the proposed ordinance.

Draft an Ordinance

The campaign should have a proposed ordinance drafted so it can be presented to government officials.  At this stage, we suggest enlisting the aid of an attorney to help draft the ordinance to ensure that the language will meet any requirements of the local governing body.

Meet with Elected Officials

The most important step in a Ban-the-Box campaign is gaining the support of the elected officials authorized to vote on proposed ordinances, typically City Council members or County Commissioners.  The process for enacting ordinances will vary by locale, so make sure to research how ordinances are enacted for your local government.

Setting up a meeting with your elected officials will allow you to present your case for why a Ban-the-Box ordinance should be adopted.  This meeting should include individuals with criminal records who could relate their personal experiences with post-conviction job searches, e.g., what the individuals have done to try to reintegrate into the community, how the box has complicated those efforts, and why the ordinance will give the individuals a second chance.  It is important that participants in the meeting do not attempt to re-litigate their past criminal cases.  In our experience, elected officials are more interested in what individuals have done since their contact with the criminal legal system and how their criminal record negatively affects their job search.  Remember that staying on message is essential to influencing these elected officials as to why your cause is important.