Education & Advocacy Moves MN Employers to Voluntarily “Banning the Box”

September 26, 2011

In 2009, Minnesota became the first state to require, by law, all public employers to wait until an applicant has been selected for an interview before inquiring about criminal record.  “Ban the Box” aims to give individuals with criminal records the opportunity to be evaluated on their skills and qualifications, not only their criminal record.  Although employers may still ask about prior arrests and convictions during an interview, giving ex-offenders the chance to reach that interview stage will result in a much better chance of getting hired because they are able to explain their past problems with the law in person.  This effort has been successful thus far, but it is important to note that private employers throughout Minnesota are not yet required to “ban the box.”

The StarTribune recently published its 20th annual report on Minnesota’s top 100 employers – employing over 1.2 million Minnesota residents.  These employers are not required by law to eliminate questions regarding criminal records on their applications; however, many of these employers have.  In attempt to review all one hundred online applications, I found that while thirty-four (34) of the top 100 employers still ask applicants if they have been convicted of a felony, forty (40) employers never inquire about past criminal convictions.  The remaining twenty-six (26) employers do not provide an online application; rather, these employers ask the applicant to send a resume and cover letter to the company’s Human Resource Director.

 Nine (9) of the twenty-six (26) employers who ask for resumes specified that once they receive this information they allow the applicant to apply and the question regarding prior arrests and convictions is on their application.  Therefore, a total of forty-three (43) of the top 100 employers in Minnesota have not voluntarily “banned the box” and continue to ask the question. However, three (3) of these employers ask for permission to conduct a background check rather than asking specifics about felony convictions. The remaining twenty (20) employers did not specify either way.

Most of the companies, which do not provide online applications, are ranked somewhere between 40 and 100 of the StarTribune’s annual report, while companies with higher rankings do provide online applications.  However, less than half of the top employers ask applicants if they have been convicted of a prior felony. The Human Resources Director at 3M (ranked 5th) states that:

 “Several states have mandated a regulation that companies can not ask criminal history questions prior to making an offer due to disparate impact on hiring decisions when having that information prior to interview/offer. More states are considering the same legislation. Due to continuous changing state laws and the inability to stay abreast of it at all times, 3M made the conscious decision last fall (2010) to remove the criminal history questions until after offer.”

Conversely, the majority of employers on the bottom half of the StarTribune’s annual report (#40-100) ask about the applicant’s prior arrests and convictions.  Exact percentages are unclear because a number of these employers do not have online applications and do not clarify whether they ask this question on subsequent applications; however, it is likely that many of these employers have yet to “ban the box.”

The Human Resources Director at Clearfield (ranked 90th) states that:

“Except for safety related positions, I’m not convinced an employer needs this information (regarding prior criminal convictions).  I’d be more comfortable limiting the question to whether they had a conviction that related to assault and battery or other violence.  Fortunately, our company product isn’t one that is attractive to theft, so those types of convictions are not relevant for us.”

It seems that the larger, more profitable businesses are voluntarily “banning the box.” Although every company’s specific reason for this change is not known, 3M claims to have followed this trend in attempt to keep up with continuously changing state laws – implying that the law will eventually require private employers to remove this question from their application as well.

It is safe to say that the “ban the box” movement has made an impact – public employers are required to remove this question from their application and many private employers have followed their lead.  However, in effort to make “ban the box” even more effective Minnesota should also require private employers to wait until the interview process to inquire about criminal records.

– Sarah Walker, COO 180 Degrees & Lauren Clausen, Minnesota Justice Foundation Intern


Prison Based-Gerrymandering: Minnesota Citizens Redistricting Commission – September 19, 2011

September 20, 2011

Testimony
Thank you, Members of the Commission, for providing the opportunity to provide testimony here today. My name is Sarah Walker and I am the Chief Operating Officer of 180 Degrees, Inc. and co-founder of the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition.
I am also a member of the Board of the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based non-partisan, non-profit center which for the last decade has been the leading organization studying how the U.S. Census counts people in prison and working to quantify the policy and legal implications flowing from those technical decisions. The issue of prison-based gerrymandering is also on the Second Chance Coalition’s Legislative Policy Agenda, and we supported the passage of S.F. No. 3097, introduced by Senator Higgins, and H.F. 3536 introduced by Rep. Champion during the last legislative session.
Each decade, Minnesota redraws its legislative districts on the basis of population to ensure that each district contains the same population as other districts. In this way, all residents are given the same access to representation and government, fulfilling the Supreme Court’s “one person, one vote” rule.
However, the Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, instead of their home communities, results in significant distortions in achieving fair representation. Minnesota uses Census Bureau data for redistricting purposes, engaging in prison-based gerrymandering, even though Article VII, § 2 of the Minnesota Constitution says that a person’s residence does not change upon incarceration.
The problem in Minnesota is wide-spread; currently there are 10 Minnesota House districts where state and federal prison populations were counted as residents during the last redistricting cycle, significantly enhancing the weight of a vote cast in those districts. This also dilutes the votes of everyone who does not have a large prison in their district.
Minnesota could follow the example of other states that have already ensured the end of prison-based gerrymandering within their borders. New York, Maryland and Delaware, soon to the joined by California, have all ensured the end of prison-based gerrymandering though legislative requirements that incarcerated people be counted at home for redistricting purposes.
Crediting all of Minnesota’s incarcerated people to a few locations enhances the political clout of the people who live near prisons, while diluting voting power of all other Minnesotans. Ending prison-based gerrymandering before the next redistricting cycle will ensure that no one gets more of a vote just because they happen to live near a large prison.