Ph.D. Student Ronald Day: What Happens When Employers 'Ban the Box'?

In 2011, New York City “banned the box” on employment applications that required job seekers to disclose their criminal histories. However, the ban — which applied only to city agencies — did not prohibit employers from asking about applicants’ criminal records on secondary applications or in follow-up interviews.
Last year, New York’s City Council passed an even stricter measure. Under the Fair Chance Act, it is illegal for most employers in the city to ask about an applicant’s criminal history before making a job offer; furthermore, employers can’t withdraw an offer without legal justification.
But has the policy translated into greater job access for individuals with criminal records? Ph.D. student Ronald Day (Criminal Justice) is working to answer that question through his research.
“There are a lot of policies out there that end up being no more than feel-good measures,” Day says. “Just because a city has banned the box, it doesn’t mean that more people are securing employment. Policies don’t hire people, people hire people, so the challenge is to remove the stigma attached to people with criminal records.”

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New York City’s policies were enacted as part of a broader movement throughout the country. So far, Day says, about 100 local jurisdictions and 19 states have passed Ban the Box measures. And in November, President Barack Obama called on Congress to pass legislation that would apply the policy to federal job applications.
For Day, the impact of banning the box is not hypothetical. He dropped out of school in ninth grade, got involved in crime, and ended up serving a 15-year sentence in a New York State prison. During his incarceration, he began taking college courses. Because of a cutoff in funding, he wasn’t able to complete his degree until after his release in 2007.
Day went on to earn a master’s in public administration at Baruch College and from there came to the GC and John Jay, where he is nearing the end of his doctoral studies.

He is also the associate vice president of the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy at the Fortune Society, and leads the center’s policy, advocacy, and research, in an effort to reduce reliance on incarceration and its harmful collateral consequences, including employment discrimination.
“We want people who have paid their debt to society to be able to come home and support themselves and their families,” Day says. “When there are major impediments to employment, they can backslide. Anyone who is looking for work knows that the process can be very stressful.

"If people cannot find employment, then what do we expect them to do? It’s bad public policy and morally repugnant to deny a person a legit job and then criticize him for trying to provide for himself and his family through illegal means.”

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In recognition of his scholarship, Day was recently named a Justice Research Fellow by Columbia University’s Center for Justice. In addition to his work at the Fortune Society, Day is currently an adjunct instructor at John Jay. Previously, he served as the director of workforce development for the nonprofit Osborne Association, where he managed job training, placement, and mentoring programs.
“It’s hard for people with criminal records to achieve success when they have significant barriers placed before them,” Day says. “I feel like I have a civic duty to give back and to create pathways of possibility for others, and that requires humility and getting as much education as I can.”

[Bottom image and homepage photo courtesy of Ron Haviv/VII]

Submitted on: MAR 9, 2016

Category: Criminal Justice | General GC News | Student News