Emphasizing that one of the best predictors of whether ex-offenders will commit more crimes is whether they have a job, Governor Markell today signed legislation to prohibit public employers from inquiring into an applicant's criminal record before their first interview. Known as "banning the box," House Bill 167 forbids the practice of asking job candidates to check a box if they have a criminal record. The same prohibition will apply to asking for an applicant's credit history or score.
The Governor included banning the box as one of the criminal justice reforms proposed in his State of the State address in January, when he said "we need to start by looking at employment discrimination against people who have repaid their debt to society."
Representative JJ Johnson (D-New Castle), the prime sponsor of the bill who was recognized in the Governor's State of the State, led the legislation's passage through the General Assembly. It was approved by bipartisan margins of 31-8 in the House and 15-5 in the Senate. Other sponsors were Senator Bryan Townsend (D-Newark) and Representative Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington South).
"We cannot accept the human tragedy that occurs when those who we incarcerate -- who have the intention and ability to rejoin mainstream society -- return to a destructive lifestyle because we erect barriers that deny them fair opportunities," said Markell. "I want to thank Representative Johnson for his leadership in ensuring that public employers in Delaware can no longer prevent ex-offenders from getting a foot in the door and proving themselves. Without Representative Johnson's commitment to this cause, we would not have achieved this change today."
This law permits consideration of criminal background after an applicant's initial interview and does not place any requirements on private employers. When making solicitations for state contracts, agencies will note the state's policy and encourage companies to adopt the same practice without asking them whether they do so.
"In Delaware, more than two-thirds of the men and women we release from prison end up back there within three years," said Rep. Johnson. "Without a stable job, without regular income, we know that the person who has committed a crime before is more likely to do so again. A simple checkmark in a box can send a job application to the trash and send the person down a road we all want to avoid.
"House Bill 167 is not a "hire ex-felons' bill. This is a "foot-in-the-door' bill. It gives otherwise qualified individuals an opportunity to be considered on their merits first and their criminal histories second. I'm very pleased to be here to watch Governor Markell sign this bill into law."
Police forces, the Department of Corrections and other positions with a statutory mandate for background checks are excluded from the law's provisions.
"We want people to look for jobs. We want people to take initiative. We want people to have hope. We want people to believe that they've made amends and they'll have opportunity," Townsend said. "I think it's important to em¬phasize how many people don't even apply because they know by checking that box their application will not be looked at."