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City of Austin 'Bans the Box' To Help Ex-Inmates Land Jobs

Kathryn Decker from flickr
The City of Austin's found that 'banning the box' speeds up its hiring process.

Have you ever applied for a job where they ask you to check a box if you have a criminal record?

Over the summer, Austin's District 4 City Council member Greg Casar put together a group to look for ways Austin businesses could change that practice, or, “ban the box.”

Marvin Jones says that finding a job was one of his toughest challenges. His resume has a 30-year employment gap. He was locked up during that time, serving a 30-year sentence for robbery.

"Before I had the job that I have now, I must've put in 1,500 applications,” Jones says.

While he did land some interviews — 59-year-old Jones has an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s and a master’s — that checkmark in the box continued to be a hindrance.

Credit Joy Diaz/KUT News
Marvin Jones had a difficult time securing employment after he served his prison sentence.

"When I tell them I have [degrees], they are happy about that. But when I tell them about the background – it cancels a lot,” he says.

Jones only got a job after he built relationships with the people at his church. Now, he manages the parking lot at All Saints Episcopal Church and works for Goodwill, which has an employment program for ex-offenders.

Still, Jones says it's not the picture his college professors painted while he was attending classes in prison.

"They say they want you to succeed, but everything is against you. My degrees have not helped me one bit since I've been out.”

Despite the challenges, Jones now finds himself in stable position.

In Texas, more than 166,000 incarcerated people will need jobs when they're released. Marc Washington with the City of Austin's Human Resources department says now that the city has "banned the box," its hiring process moves faster.

"Instead of spending time checking backgrounds on every applicant, we focus on just the top selected applicant after we've ensured that person is the most qualified for the position,” Washington says.

Travis County is following the city's lead and doing the same. Now, the Austin City Council wants to expand the ban the box program to private employers. The council will talk about how to do that later this month. 

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.