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Baltimore Takes Steps to Remove Barriers for Formerly Incarcerated People

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a 10-4 vote yesterday by the Baltimore City Council, the “Charm City” joined more than 60 cities and 10 states by enacting “Ban the Box” legislation.

The ‘Ban the Box’ legislation limits employers’ ability to inquire about an applicant’s criminal history until later in the application phase. The change means that some of the individuals who have left prison and fulfilled their court obligations may no longer need to check a box, or fill out information on employment applications that state an individual’s past criminal justice involvement.

The bill is expected to be signed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who issued a statement calling the legislation "a critical component to not only helping to reduce unemployment, but also improving public safety by addressing recidivism."

"So many have been advocating to ban the box for so many of us who have had door after door after door closed before even getting a chance to prove ourselves," said Valerie Johnson, a Baltimore citizen and resident of the Marian House, which offers job and rehabilitative training services in the city. Johnson added that she has not been unable to find employment due to having to check the criminal history box on job applications.

"Now, people like me, hardworking people who want to work hard and be a part of our communities, can get our foot in the door. Banning the box was the right thing to do. Now that I don't have to check that box, I feel like I have a fighting chance!"

“In Baltimore City, individuals seeking employment will be evaluated based first on their skills, talents and ability to sell themselves to the employer and only after will their pasts be known,” said Katie Allston, Executive Director of the Marian House which helps provide rehabilitative and job training services to women. “When you consider a normal hiring process this is consistent with the point at which other references are checked – you don't call the reference of every applicant, just those you are seriously considering.”

A host of Baltimore and state-wide organizations that work with, and are run by individuals who have been incarcerated or are returning residents themselves are celebrating the passage of the legislation including:Alternative Directions; American Friends Service Committee; Clean Slate America, Inc; Civic Works, Inc; Freedom Advocates Celebrating Ex-Offenders; Families Against Injustice; Fusion Partnerships, Inc.; Homeless Persons Representation Project; Jericho ReEntry; Job Opportunities Task Force; Justice Policy Institute; Living Classrooms Foundation; Marian House; Maryland Justice Project; Maryland New Directions, Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative; Out for Justice, Inc., People Encouraging People; and Power Inside. “This is definitely a step in the right direction,” said JPI Executive Director Marc Schindler. “As a former Baltimore public defender who navigated Baltimore’s public safety challenges for years, I am confident that this first step is the right step to help our returning citizens successfully re-enter the community, move past their criminal justice involvement, and contribute to Baltimore communities.

For more information on the effort that led to the city council’s decision last night, please contact the Justice Policy Institute so that we can connect you to the organizations that helped move this critical legislation in Baltimore. Contact: 202.558.7974 x 308, or 202.320.1029, or email: zhughes@justicepolicy.org. The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promote policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities. For JPI reports visit our website at www.justicepolicy.org.

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