One of the biggest barriers for individuals returning from having been incarcerated is finding employment. In an effort to alleviate this issue, many states have passed a "ban the box" law. New Mexico has just become one of them.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham has promised to sign a bill that makes New Mexico the 12th state in the nation to “ban the box” on private sector job applications. That means, essentially, that businesses around the state will be forbidden from forcing job seekers to indicate past convictions on an initial application.
New Mexico prohibited conviction questions on applications for government jobs in 2010. The New Mexico bill reads:
If a private employer uses a written or electronic employment application, the employer shall not make an inquiry regarding an applicant's history of arrest or conviction on the employment application but may take into consideration an applicant's conviction after review of the applicant's application and upon discussion of employment with the applicant. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an employer from notifying an applicant that the law or the employer's policy could disqualify an applicant who has a certain criminal history from employment in particular positions with that employer.
History of Ban-the-Box Laws
At some point in their lives, most people have filled out a standard job application with a set of common questions. One of those questions is: “Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Check yes or no.” Many applicants reluctantly check “yes,” knowing that it often means the end of the application process for them. Employers often used the question to weed out applicants with a criminal record, without considering the specifics of the crime, how long ago it happened, or what the applicants have been doing since then.
Not surprisingly, those with a criminal past face high unemployment rates and studies have shown that prolonged unemployment leads to higher recidivism rates. In other words, ex-offenders who are out of work are more likely to commit further crimes. There is also a concern of racial discrimination. For example, disparate impact discrimination refers to a seemingly neutral policy disproportionately affecting members of a particular race. Because African American and Latino men are arrested and convicted at disproportionately higher rates than Caucasian men, asking about criminal records has much greater impact on them.