Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order Friday to remove all questions regarding criminal history from applications for state government jobs. Agencies can still conduct a criminal background check on a job candidate, but only after finding him or her otherwise qualified for the position.
Speaking at a local Goodwill store in Richmond, Virginia, McAuliffe tied his action to the upcoming Easter holiday and its focus on turning over a new leaf.
“We should not seal the fate of every man and woman with a criminal record based on a hasty verdict,” he said. “If they are eager to make a clean start and build new lives in their communities, they deserve a fair chance at employment.”
Though the Department Of Labor doesn’t track the unemployment rate among those returning from jail or prison, studies have found that it’s about 60 to 75 percent for individuals a year after their incarceration. Difficulty securing a job is a major reason so many returned citizens commit another crime and return to prison.
Before signing the order, McAuliffe also expressed concern that consequences of “checking the box” on a job application and disclosing a past criminal conviction has a disproportionate impact on the state’s workers of color.
“We all know that this box has an unequal impact on our minority families,” he said. “One study found that 34 percent of white job applicants without a record received a callback, while only 17 percent of those with a criminal record did. Among African Americans, 14 percent without a criminal record received a callback while only 5 percent of those with a record heard back from a potential employer.”
The order encourages, but doesn’t require, Virginia’s private employers to ‘ban the box’ as well — and praises those like Target, WalMart and Home Depot that have already done so.
Virginia’s move follows similar laws passed in Georgia, Nebraska and a handful of others states as well as the District of Columbia to combat hiring discrimination against workers with criminal records.
The National Employment Law Project estimates 70 million American adults have arrests or convictions in their past that can make it difficult for them to obtain employment.