By Johanna Kaiser, Communications & Development Associate

Many of us know the mix of excitement and anxiety felt when, after filling out a job application, an employer calls to schedule an interview. It’s a good feeling to know new opportunities are on the horizon. Too many job applicants never get that call, however, because of one simple question on the application: “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”

Asking this question on an application and disqualifying anyone who answers “yes” takes away opportunities for well-qualified individuals and does nothing to help previously incarcerated individuals rebuild their lives. That’s why the ACLU has long supported efforts to “ban the box” and remove questions about criminal histories from initial applications. We worked with community groups and other civil rights organizations to ban Rhode Island employers from asking such questions in the initial application process, but earlier this year we found that more than a year after such questions were made illegal, at least eleven municipalities in the state were still asking job applicants about their criminal record on their employment application forms.

As Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) executive director Fred Ordoñez said when we announced the result of our survey: “It’s sadly ironic that these municipalities can break a law with little consequence, yet regular people’s criminal record turns into a life sentence of unemployment.”

This life sentence of unemployment is troubling since employment is a crucial factor in preventing individuals from re-offending. And, since people of color are disproportionately stopped, arrested, and incarcerated, they are disproportionately affected by this unnecessary barrier to employment.

While we continue to be vigilant in enforcing our ban the box law, we can fortunately report that Rhode Island is not alone in its ban. A total of 15 states and more than 100 cities and counties, plus the District of Columbia, have adopted fair-chance hiring policies. Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Apple have removed the question about convictions from initial job applications.

President Obama has called on employers to “ban the box” on their applications in order to give previously incarcerated individuals a fair shot at rebuilding their lives. Now, we’re calling on the President to do the same and strike the question from applications for federal agencies and federal contractor jobs.

It’s time to end this counter-productive practice.