In recent years, a key criminal justice reform initiative has taken hold throughout the nation. So what exactly is #BanTheBox? And why is the Nevada Legislature considering a bill to keep one question off job applications?

Today, the Assembly Government Affairs Committee heard AB 384. Assembly Member Tyrone Thompson (D-North Las Vegas) proposed it as a way to assist some 600,000 Nevadans who often have difficulty landing a job because of their prior criminal records. He had already held discussions with the City of North Las Vegas about the policy behind AB 384, discussions that inspired the city to become the first Nevada municipality to Ban the Box.

“Ban the Box is good public policy. […] By not giving them a fair chance of employment, we’re setting them up to reoffend.” – Delen Goldberg, City of North Las Vegas

New York City and several other major cities have had Ban the Box fair chance employment laws in place. 26 states now have some kind of Ban the Box. And the 2014 bipartisan federal criminal justice reform proposal in Congress included a Ban the Box initiative for nonviolent offenders. Reformers now see an opportunity to expand statewide what North Las Vegas and Clark County have already begun.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Assembly Member Thompson acknowledged “one out of four Nevadans have some sort of record hovering over their heads” in describing the need for this bill. Sean Smith, one of Thompson’s constituents and himself a rehabilitated ex-felon, agreed. While Smith has been able to find work, he works with other former prisoners who have had trouble finding jobs after their release.
University of Nevada Reno Sociology Professor Susan Chandler questioned why our society has such an unfounded fear of ex-offenders who have been rehabilitated.

“We are fed a seriously distorted picture of men and women in U.S. prisons.” – Susan Chandler

Chandler described her experience volunteering in state prisons. She rejected the “distorted picture” many may have due to the depiction of prison life in pop culture. Rather, she described people who were striving to correct the mistakes made earlier in life and pursue “opportunities that many of us take for granted”.
“In 2003, I was arrested.” That’s how Rev. Ender Austin, III, began his testimony on AB 384. He ultimately wasn’t even convicted, yet he still couldn’t “[re]gain the job I held very competently and performed efficiently”.

“If they’re not gainfully employed […] They can’t satisfy conditions of their sentence.” – Sean Sullivan, Washoe County Public Defender’s’ Office

Photo by Andrew Davey

Though relevant state agencies officially testified as neutral, Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation (DETR) and Department of Corrections officials indicated support for the Ban the Box concept. Corrections officials described the early elimination of ex-offenders from job consideration as an “obstacle to the department’s mission” to rehabilitate offenders and place them back in the workforce. DETR officials described how they would enforce AB 384, as the bill places enforcement in the hands of the Nevada Equal Rights Commission.
Will Nevada become the 27th state to #BanTheBox? And will the Nevada Legislature pass one of the strongest versions of this policy to ensure ex-offenders are fully re-integrated into society? The first committee passage deadline is this Friday, so we may not have to wait too much longer to find out.