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Editorial: ‘Ban the Box’ law deserves close attention

Starting Jan. 1, Minnesota will join a handful of other states and about 50 cities in enforcing “Ban the Box” legislation, which prohibits many employers from asking on a job application about an applicant’s criminal history.

As the law’s supporters are quick to note, the new rule doesn’t forbid any such inquiries completely. It just puts them off limits until the applicant reaches the interview stage.

At that point, employers are free to ask whether the applicant has a record. And at the same time, applicants then will be able to explain their situations and perhaps describe how they’ve paid their debt to society and learned their lesson.

That’s a chance comparatively few ex-convicts get today, because so few of their applications even make it to the interview stage.

A big reason for the law is the fact that in modern America, a conviction does such extraordinary damage to a person’s prospects. In the days before the Internet, one’s past in Maine might not weigh heavily on one’s future in Montana; but today, criminal histories are just a Google search away.

Also, the nature of employment has changed, with fewer good-paying jobs available for Americans who lack marketable and professional skills. Prisons don’t do very well at teaching those.

The result is that a criminal record can consign a person to a life on the margins – or, just as likely, a life of committing more crimes.

Will “Ban the Box” rules help people get a fresh start? Or will workplace crime rates go up as the newly hired employees bring about critics’ worst fears?

That’s what Minnesotans and North Dakotans alike should watch as Minnesota puts its policy into effect.

By the way, Minneapolis-based Target Corp. has announced that it will remove criminal-history questions from its applications not only in Minnesota but around the country.

Minnesota deserves credit for giving this policy a try and letting the “laboratory of the states” craft solutions to a challenging social problem.


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