Thanks to Bridge for highlighting the business, safety, and cost benefits of employing people who have been involved in the criminal justice system. Your article on the “ban the box” movement – named for the box applicants must check to reveal a criminal record – notes that when employers consider applicants with such records, they can reduce turnover costs, safely integrate new employees into the workforce and reduce recidivism.
Moving the box makes sense. Employers who move the box ask about a criminal record after an applicant is deemed qualified for a position. This practice increases an employer’s talent pool, saves turnover costs, reduces recidivism and ensures the employer will not run afoul of the law.
In Minneapolis, when the box was on an application, fewer than 6 percent of applicants whose background checks revealed a record were hired by the city. After moving the box, the city hired over 57 percent of applicants with a criminal history. This is because the city found the person who was right for the job was still right for the job after proper consideration of the criminal record. By asking first, the city denied itself of a talented pool of applicants. Johns Hopkins also asks later and in doing so, saves turnover costs. A five-year study of almost 500 hospital employees with criminal records showed a lower turnover rate than employees without a record.
These savings extend to taxpayers because the cost of incarceration – over $30,000 per inmate in Michigan – is more likely avoided if people have jobs. People who are employed after release are less likely to return to prison; one study shows that employment reduced recidivism by nearly 70 percent. Many factors go into recidivism, but it is undeniable that employment is a significant one.
Finally, moving the box ensures employers will not run afoul of the law. Recently, BMW paid $1.6 million in a settlement for its employment practice that screened out qualified employees solely because of their criminal history. A proper evaluation of the criminal record at the proper time would have insulated the company from this lawsuit and settlement.
At Talent 2025, we are dedicated to an integrated talent development system for West Michigan. As business leaders, we recognize that talent includes those who have been involved in the criminal justice system. We are working with area stakeholders to develop safe, efficient and competitive talent pools and we encourage employers to act to move the box. More on our work in this area can be found at our website.