Columbia considers 'ban the box' for ex-offenders

Aug 14, 2014

Credit Flazingo Photo / Flickr

Over 45-hundred people on average are released from prison each year in Missouri, of those 480 in Boone County. After being locked up for weeks, months or even years, how do people adjust back to life outside prison and find a job? One obstacle confronting ex-offenders is the little box on job applications that asks about criminal history.

Missouri Business Alert’s Michaela Marshall Dungey looked at the paths people in Columbia can take to integrate back into society. She also looked into a measure called ban the box, which is an effort to remove that box on job applications.

She spoke with Dan Hanneken who was released from prison in 2003 and at that time, not even McDonald’s wanted to hire him.  Now, Hanneken is the Executive Director of a re-entry program called In-2-Action that helps ex-offenders find a job.

The non-profit organization has two homes that can provide a daily routine, as well as help men in the program develop soft skills. The ex-offenders then work in a transitional employment service program before the real job search begins.

According to Hanneken, In-2-Action applies faith-based principles in a practical way, encouraging the men to think through their behavior before acting. 

Hanneken says he’s in favor of the ban the box measure, which Columbia City Council could adopt later this year. Columbia would be following Kansas City’s lead, which passed a similar measure last year. 

Columbia councilmember Michael Trapp supports the measure. He and Hanneken stress this would not force employers to hire ex-offenders, but make them evaluate potential employees based on their skills, not just their past history.

I spoke with Michaela Marshall Dungey who wrote the article for the Missouri Business Alert.

So what’s the larger issue here, the fact that ex-cons do not have the skills or resources find a job, or is it that employers are unwilling to even take a look at the applicant if they have criminal history?

“I think it’s really both and I know that with several of the people that I spoke with, we talked about not only just the programs that they run, or the current issues on the table, but also the prison system as a whole and how it focuses less on rehabilitation than a lot of people feel like it should. And so I think a lot of times prison is just a dead space for a lot of people. And, so not only do you come out and you don't have the current skills, but you're also being put into a scenario where no one is really even open to giving you a second chance and so I think that's just really disheartening for people.”

So, are there any misconceptions that people have towards ex-offenders?

“I think so…And Dan actually shared a story of when he got out of prison and he was applying for a job at McDonalds. And he had a great conversation with the manager, they got along great. He really answered all of the interview questions to what he felt like was the best of his ability. The manager seemed to be really excited in hiring him, they were kind of talking loosely about start dates and when he could really get to work and then she saw the little box that said he had a criminal history. And he said she just got up and walked away and was furious that he hadn't disclosed that information prior to their interview because a lot of companies actually have policies that they don't hire people with a criminal history. And so for him, and for me as well I think that was a very tangible example of how in a lot of ways, a lot of these people are actually capable of being great employees. And sometimes employers even see that, especially in this case and it’s that one little tiny hook-up that keeps a lot of people from being hired, or keeps managers from hiring individuals.”

Michaela’s full story can be found at missouribusinessalert.com.