Ban the Box Laws

Magnifying Glass

Did I eat hallucinogenic mushrooms for breakfast?

No, I read that correctly: those with criminal convictions are becoming a protected class.

Earlier this week I was floored to read that yet another city, Richmond, California, has barred private companies with city contracts from doing criminal history background checks on job applicants in most cases.

Multiple news agencies are reporting that this is an emerging trend among government agencies. Some of these rules apply to contractors only; many apply to the agencies, namely cities, themselves.

This misguided, feel good idea seems to come out of a sense of mercy towards those who’ve already been punished for their mistakes. In some cases, if someone hasn’t been convicted of a crime for x number of years, it can’t be held against them. Only certain types of crimes count; an article above says, “Murder, voluntary manslaughter and sex offenses requiring registry can be inquired about no matter how much time has passed.”

Positions that involve work with children might be held to different standards, and at agencies like Philadelphia,, an inquiry about your criminal history can’t be done until a certain point in the application process. Other cities and states don’t do a criminal history check until they offer the applicant a job.

While I agree that a job applicant’s criminal history should be reviewed on a case by case basis, this move towards ignoring all or part of an applicant’s criminal history is a huge mistake. It’s also a grave error to only be able to rescind the job offer or fire someone if they’ve been convicted of a crime, not just arrested for it.

For years I’ve maintained that thorough background checks need to be done on all government employees because I’ve seen so many deceptive and abusive people slip through the cracks. Sometimes agencies can see the polished younger (sociopathic) guy with all the right answers as an ideal candidate and an older guy who was busted in 1994 for possession of marijuana as an instant “nope.” Having or not having a criminal history does not automatically make you the best or worst candidate for a job.

But not checking someone’s past at all, or limiting it to certain parameters? In an age rife with terrorism, domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, identity theft, fraud, and other great evils when we should become smarter, we are becoming stupider? How is there justice in this for crime victims or society in general? Isn’t the government supposed to protect us from those who choose to violate the law?

I have an ongoing frustration with the overzealous need of part of our society to bend over backwards to make life easier for abusers and criminals while completely ignoring the impact on crime victims. It’s trendy for celebrities to throw their support behind someone in prison, but when do we ever see a Hollywood type going to bat for a particular crime victim? Where are the photo ops and benefit concerts for the people whose rights were violated by the ones behind bars?

The line between good and evil is starting to blur more and more. Some days I feel like the Psalmist, who asked God how He could let the wicked prosper (he resolved this by reminding himself of their end). Having a criminal conviction doesn’t make you wicked in and of itself– a lot of people have youthful goofs. But it’s insulting to people who’ve lived a clean life or cleaned up their act after past mistakes to be put into the same bucket as those who need to accept that there can be ongoing consequences for some acts.

As a conservative I don’t agree with criminalizing as much as we do or automatically disqualifying someone for any type of offense. There are strong arguments for decriminalizing some offenses to ease overcrowding in prisons and overtaxing the court system. I’m also against the government using criminal charges to shut down our freedoms and for making it so difficult to have certain records expunged. However, turning a blind eye to some people’s pasts will only result in a bigger burden on society. Some criminals truly should not be allowed in government jobs where once they’re in, they’re union protected and therefore almost impossible to let go.

Murder. Registered sex offenses. Manslaughter. Those sound like good areas to still look into. But what, then, are Criminal History Checks Lite conveniently forgetting? Assault. Drug dealing. Domestic violence. Workplace violence. Fraud. Embezzling. Addiction. Child abuse. DUIs. Indecent exposure. A long history of driving offenses. Indecent liberties. Having a driver’s license suspended for failure to pay child support. And arrests for all of the above that did not result in a conviction.

Sometimes these so-called “lesser offenses” are the ones that put a public agency most at risk. Hiring an applicant who embezzled $300,000 from his last employer– but he wasn’t convicted due to a technicality– does not serve the public well. Hiring someone with a recent DUI and a history of alcoholism to drive heavy equipment can put the public at risk. Welcoming a man twice suspected of spousal abuse into a management position where he can molest and harass female subordinates can not only be life-changing for those women, but cost taxpayers millions of dollars when one of those women finally steps forward to sue the agency.

The list could go on. Reality is that we see the consequences of lax background checks in our government agencies everyday. I’ve worked in government a long time and over those years have been amazed at what I’ve learned about people’s pasts despite a textbook background check. There are some deep, dark secrets out there, particularly in law enforcement, where much more could be done to ensure that non-pathological people earn those jobs. The consequences of allowing some deviant people to worm their way into criminal justice can be horrific and it drives moral, hard-working people out so that the amoral can continue to thrive.

Ban the Box laws, a reference to not having a box to check on an application that says “yes, I have a criminal history,” are a giant, awkward leap in the wrong direction. It follows a current trend in society that we should all be able to do whatever we want and quickly absolved of our deeds if we violate boundaries. If we don’t instantly forgive those who commit evil or sacrifice our own belief systems to this supposed “mercy,” we are branded “haters.”

There is no hatred in being selective about who is hired as a public servant. There should be no requirement for the public to have to enable criminals. Societal norms and laws have existed for thousands of years in order to protect the majority from the minority who choose to violate them. Easing these restrictions only confuses light and dark. It removes incentives for today’s youth to be law-abiding citizens– and they’re already surrounded by hedonism and narcissism.

To recap, criminal histories should be dealt with on a case by case basis. Some people truly have left their past behind them or worked hard to change. But criminal history checks can also be red flags that signal patterns of irresponsible behavior. They can also be the tip of the iceberg, showing just the one arrest or conviction the subject was caught on while all sorts of secrets bob around below the surface. It should also be noted that what a person is convicted of is often a few notches down from what they actually did– perhaps they were arrested for felony harassment (threats to kill) and pled down to a misdemeanor assault charge.

Nonconviction data and contacts with social services agencies (CPS, APS, etc.) can be even more revealing than conviction data. You might be dealing with someone who knows how to violate and take advantage of others and get away with it. This is particularly true in family violence cases. Abusers know how to try and make their victims look crazy, portray themselves as the victims, intimidate victims and witnesses into dropping charges, and so on. They are master manipulators. In Washington State it seems very common that abusers are arrested for domestic violence but upon agreeing to going through the motions at “treatment,” the charges are dropped. Treatment does not work on pathological personalities who don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong.

The movement to ignore criminal histories is a step back towards the Dark Ages. We could be focusing instead on helping out unemployed veterans, single parents, or people with disabilities more but it seems that the most “merciful” thing to do is work towards making those with criminal convictions a protected class. Some say it’s fairer to minorities but I say that each job applicant should have to stand on their own merit. There’s already buzz of efforts to make this a civil rights issue, as if somehow those with criminal histories have been wronged by society and owed automatic absolution regardless of whether their punishment fit the crime.

If you choose to commit a crime that wrongs another person, expect life to be more difficult. Do not expect everyone else to regard you as reformed and ethical just because you paid the fine or did the time. Even when you are forgiven you have to earn trust back and prove that you’re serious about doing what’s right. We all fall sometimes. But some fall much harder than others and are set outside the mainstream for good reason. We should use common sense, caution, and objective background checks by parties like qualified forensic psychologists to hire government employees, not blindly dole out second– or tenth– chances.

For the same reasons, I believe that women should also conduct thorough background checks on potential partners. It’s often the guys who have “nothing to hide” whose criminal history checks or court records show a pervasive pattern of pathological behavior. A quick Google search can reveal aspects of his past, associations, and behaviors that can have a profound and even fatal effect on your future. To both government agencies and men and women seeking love I offer the exact same advice– know who you’re dealing with and do your homework. A failure to do so can cost others their safety, their sanity, millions of dollars in legal fees, and even their lives.


We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. -Albert Einstein


©2013 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

3 thoughts on “Ban the Box Laws

  1. oops…hit send before I meant to.
    There are so many people out there in my situation: normal everyday citizens who did stupid things for even stupider reasons. We’re not criminals just jerks who ran afoul of the law who’d like to get back to work!


  2. I agree with you on this: To recap, criminal histories should be dealt with on a case by case basis.

    The problem is it just DOESNT HAPPEN!

    I’d love a job and have applied for many but have been turned away from every single one because of my drug offenses…none of which I did time for beyond probation, but they’re still there.
    No one who is reformed expects a “pass” on their past behaviour: if you’re truly reformed, you understand that you alone are responsible for what you did that put you in conflict with the legal system. What I’m saying is this: I never get the chance to explain, or let potential employers see what a hard worker and asset I’d be for their company.


    1. And you brought up an interesting point– should drug offenses even be criminal? There’s a lot of strong arguments for legalization, especially given how the war on drugs has utterly failed.

      This is why I know this should be dealt with on a case by case basis. There are people who are perfectly qualified for a job who might be overlooked if all of our pasts are treated the same. I’m concerned about the abusers, those who embezzle and commit fraud, and those sorts.


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