It is well established that the path to stability for the formerly incarcerated is through employment, yet studies show that simply asking “Have You Been Convicted of a Felony?” is a major barrier on two levels. First, it sends a message to the applicant that it is hopeless to apply; second, it allows employers to scrap an application without so much as an interview. Studies have proven this to be true.
A famous Milwaukee study found that Caucasian applicants received callbacks 35% of the time, but only 17% with a felony record. African-American applicants went from 15% to 4%, respectively. If only 4 out of 100 African-American Rhode Islanders with a felony can even get an interview, it is clear that the chances of honest employment are slim.
Roughly 25% of RI has a criminal record, and 17,000 people per year are released from the ACI. The New Mexico legislature issued a 2010 report showing their "Ban the Box" law will have “no fiscal impact.” Rhode Island legislators should feel safe knowing that ours would be the same.
Representative Scott Slater has introduced a bill, HB # 5101, to counter this hopelessness. It is similar to legislation passed in MA, CT, NY, MN, and NM over the past two years, and city/municipal ordinances around the nation (including Providence) which address this situation in some manner.
What it WILL do:
Allow applicants to explain their felony convictions at the interview stage, if they have been deemed otherwise qualified for the job;
Stop public view of arrests and dismissed charges;
Require an employer to put in writing, whenever the felony conviction is basis for denying employment, and refer to the specific conviction(s);
Allow an applicant to present evidence about the accuracy and/or relevance of the report;
What it WON’T do:
Will not override any law that mandates people with felonies, or certain felonies, from working in particular occupations- (children, elderly, financial, etc.);
Will not force employers to hire felons.