Legislation Would Give Felons Fair Chance At Jobs In New Jersey

Think about a scenario that is quite common in New Jersey and nationwide. A person is convicted of a nonviolent, first-time criminal offense and sentenced. After fulfilling the sentencing requirements, he or she is allowed to go out and get a job and begin putting a life back together, committed to avoiding jail regaining independence. But it may not be long until that person ends up back in prison. Where did it all go wrong?

According to some New Jersey lawmakers, many people end up back in jail because they have been unable to get a job. And now steps are being taken to address this major obstacle that too many people face.

Currently, employers are able to ask a job candidate about a felony offense right off the bat on an application. In general, an employer will likely disregard any applicant with a felony conviction, regardless of the details of the conviction. A simple check box could be standing in the way of qualified, competent people from getting jobs and re-entering society as an active and valuable participant.

Without jobs, people cannot make money. Without money, people cannot afford homes or child support or basic needs. And without these things, people can become hopeless and desperate, putting them in a position to commit a crime and end up back in jail.

In order to change this pattern, New Jersey lawmakers are pushing legislation that would prohibit employers from asking about a felony conviction early on in the application process. Instead, they would remove the check box, giving employees an opportunity to be judged first on their qualifications for the job. If a person is qualified and could be offered the job, only then would employers conduct a background check. The measure would also prohibit employers from refusing to hire a candidate based on charges that were ultimately dismissed and those that have been expunged.

Supporters of the bill hope that it is passed in New Jersey, as it has already been in other states. The move would give people who have made a mistake the chance to avoid making future mistakes and winding up back in jail over and over.

What do you think? Should the bill be passed in New Jersey?

Source: The Jersey Journal, “Bill would ban employers from asking about criminal history until job offer,” Terrence T. McDonald, Dec. 4, 2013