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Prisoner Reentry: New Mexico Becomes Second State to Ban Criminal History Queries in Public Job Applications

Gov. Bill Richardson (D) Monday signed into law a bill that removes one obstacle to employment for people with criminal convictions. The bill, SB 254, the Consideration of Crime Convictions for Jobs bill, will remove the question on public job applications about whether a person has been convicted of a felony, leaving such questions for the interview stage of the hiring process.

The bill applies to job application for state, local, or federal public jobs. It does not apply to private sector employers. It passed the Senate 35-4 and the House 54-14.

Known as "ban the box," such bills are designed to allow ex-convicts a better opportunity to reenter the job market. Having a job is a key means of reducing recidivism.

New Mexico now becomes the second state to pass such legislation. Minnesota passed a similar measure in 2009. Some cities, including Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and San Francisco have passed similar measures as well.

"Lots of young people -- and old people, too -- have that one stupid mistake they made years ago," said Republican Sen. Clint Harden, a former state labor secretary who sponsored the bill. The bill gives them a chance to explain before they are shut out of the hiring process: "Yeah, I had a felony when I was 22, I got caught for possession with intent, I did probation, that was 15 years ago, and I don't do drugs now and yadda yadda," he told the Associated Press late last month.

"We thank Gov. Richardson for signing the 'ban the box' bill," said Julie Roberts, acting state director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico office. "The governor and the New Mexico legislature affirmed their support for people with convictions to be given this opportunity for a second chance. This bill will make our communities safer and keep families together by providing job opportunities to people who need them most."

One in five Americans has a criminal record, and Roberts is one of them. She had a drug bust at age 18. "Since then, I've gone to college, I have had internships, I haven't been in trouble for eight years but I still have to check the box," she said. "There's a lot of people like me. This new law will allow individuals who are qualified for a position the chance to get their foot in the door," she said. "As a person with a criminal conviction, this law will not only help me, but others around the state who made a mistake years ago and are now rebuilding their lives."

In addition to the Drug Policy Alliance, the bill was supported by the New Mexico Conference of Churches, the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of New Mexico, the New Mexico Public Health Association, the Women's Justice Project, and Somos Un Pueblo Unido.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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The losers in this, besides

The losers in this, besides the Criminal Enforcement bureaucrats whose pot-arrest slanders are erased from someone's record, will be that flood of "clean-nosed" mediocrities who seep-- or is it sweep-- into jobs for which a more brilliant (but "too experimentative") individual has been made ineligible.

Big deal

Anyone with access to the Internet can do criminal background checks. And rest assured, the government agencies affected by this bill WILL be doing background checks. If you want to do something positive for drug felons AND the public, change the laws that ban them from jobs, laws that place victimless drug convictions on the same level as theft and abuse.

This bill won't change anything; in fact, if there's anything worse than self-righteous politicians who presume to tell us how to live, it's self-righteous politicians who presume to forgive us for things they know nothing about.

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