Senator Proos, why would you want to ban “Ban the Box”?

So, today I was in Lansing as part of a cadre of criminal justice reform advocates pushing for passage of Michigan House Bill 4065 which would allow the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) to hire formerly incarcerated people again (the MDOC hired formerly incarcerated people until 1995). I was with friends from Nation Outside, The Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, Just Leadership USA, ARRO, the ACLU of Michigan (see picture above).

As we were getting ready to leave after 4065 was voted out of committee and to the floor, Kim Buddin-Crawford of the ACLU of Michigan asked us to help her bring attention to a new bill that was introduced only a few days ago by Senator John Proos (SB 353) and which, for some unknown reason, prevented local governments in Michigan from banning the box.

I have many serious questions about what possible purpose this legislation could serve given that (these talking points were provided by the ACLU):

  • 90% of employers conduct a criminal background check of an applicant as part of the hiring process and many employers have “felony exclusion” hiring policies and practices often exclude felons. 80% of housing providers conduct criminal background checks that even though research indicates a criminal record is not an accurate predictor of success as a tenant. This leaves many returning citizens in Michigan without a job or housing.
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) endorsed removing the conviction question from job applicants to give applicants with criminal records a fair chance and allow employers to hire candidates based on their merits.
  • Economic Insecurity is one of the key drivers of recidivism
  • There is a racial disparity as well, more than a third of non-working men 25 to 54 have criminal records. Unemployment among blacks in Michigan in 2014 was at an astonishing 15.8% — three times higher than the state and the national rate

But I am even more flabbergasted that this bill was introduced by Senator Proos. Why? Because:

  • Senator Proos is a Republican and Republicans generally believe that government should be limited and that the government closest to the people should have the most discretion. Banning local governments from acting to serve their own communities is contrary to GOP doctrine.
  • Senator Proos recently led the charge to liberalize parole in Michigan (passing an 18 bill package widely known in total as the “Proos Package”). I wonder why in the world he would work so hard to liberalize parole only to make it harder for parolees to find work?
  • Even if ban the box isn’t perfect, we really should not make the perfect the enemy of the  good. Banning The Box, passing Clean Slate Legislation, and creating incentives for employers to hire the formerly incarcerated would all be good policy and good for Michigan.

My suspicion is that Senator Proos is responding to business leaders who are wary of the extra paperwork and what they might think to be unnecessary interviews. However, recent reporting would suggest that this may be a time where advocates for Ban the Box legislation and employers could find common ground.

I hope to hear from Senator Proos again soon. I respect him for helping pass the parole reform package, enjoyed his recent appearance on “To The Point,” and am honestly really confused by some of his recent legislation (see my articles on the proposed MDOC Budget and I also want to thank him for responding to my questions about the MDOC budget a few weeks ago).

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