After hearing this past week that Target, the nation’s second-largest retailer announced plans to stop asking prospective employees about their criminal records in initial job applications at all of its U.S. stores, I was overjoyed.
I have seen, first-hand, the devastation caused by unfair drug laws and inadequate legal representation in the African-American community. More importantly, I consider this decision by Target to be one of the most significant turn of events related to eradicating recidivism and unemployment in the Black community in recent memory.
Target, which is based out of Minneapolis, had been facing pressure to make this move for some time; with pressure being out on them by the grassroots advocacy group TakeAction Minnesota. Prior to this recent decision, Target was firm on their stance that they reserved the right to ask about criminal backgrounds after the completion of an applicant’s first interview.
In addition to the pressure that came from grassroots advocacy, Target’s decision also comes months after Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed the “Ban the Box” legislation into law. The law, which goes into effect next year, will make it illegal for employers in Minnesota to ask about a job applicant’s criminal history until he or she has been selected for an interview.
The “Ban the Box” movement gained significant traction last year when the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) clarified that a potential employee should not be turned down solely because of a prior conviction. Ten states and more than 50 U.S. cities have passed “Ban the Box” legislation, according to the National Employment Law Project, a low-wage worker advocacy group.
What excites me the most about this outcome is that it shows what grassroots advocacy (in other words the people) and elected officials can do when they acknowledge a major issue and demand that sensible and responsible legislation is enacted and implemented.
This is so important for people of color.
National statistics show that on release from prison, 67.5% of offenders will return to some facet of the criminal justice system. However, if the inmate who is released has a high school education, his risk of returning to prison is reduced to 24%; if the inmate has two years of college, the recidivism rate drops to 10%; at four years of college the rate drops to 5.6%; and post graduate degree holders had a 0% recidivism rate.
According to statistics, 48% of recidivists are African-American. Moreover, property and drug offenses make up over 60% combined of the crimes that often lead to an ex-offender returning to prison. Annually, 25% of new prison admissions are made up of those who have violated their parole.
The Justice Policy Institute reported that during the last two decades of the twentieth century, the Black male prison population increased at a rate four times higher than the increase in Black male college students.
Minority groups are disproportionately arrested and convicted and are labeled with misdemeanor or felonies of some kind. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), Blacks accounted for 39.4% of the total prison and jail population in 2009.
According to the 2010 census of the US Census Bureau, Blacks comprised 13.6% of the US population and were incarcerated at the rate of 4,347 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same race and gender. White males were incarcerated at the rate of 678 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 1,755 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents
African-American girls and women are becoming a fast growing population in our prisons and jails nation-wide. There were 115,779 women incarcerated in either state or federal prisons at midyear 2008. Black women account for 32.6% of incarcerated women and Hispanic women represent 16% of this population at midyear 2008.
Listen, while I applaud Target, let’s not get it twisted. They made their decision because pressure was put on them from the people and by the law. If it was not for those two things, they would be continuing with that practice.
The employment practices of many companies in America today are equivalent to the infamous “No Coloreds Allowed” signs which hung from the doors and windows of most businesses during the Jim Crow era. Although it’s not politically correct to publicly display those signs anymore, many of them have been redesigned and are being hung in their contracts, applications and hiring processes.
I hope the decision by Target leads others to change also. The lasting effects of these policies have and will continue to have a devastating impact on qualified African-American applicants who are able to perform the job duties of the position they seek; even though they may have been incarcerated before.
I vehemently believe that these employment policies and practices contribute to the nation’s recidivism rate, in that individuals who have paid their price to society can’t properly rebuild their lives once they have become a part of the system.
If you want to reduce crime and decrease unemployment, then don’t let Target be the last company to make that change.