New Mexico residents with a drug felony on their record soon may not be required to divulge this information to potential employers. A piece of bi-partisan legislation was unanimously approved earlier this week by the Senate Public Affairs Committee that would eliminate the portion on a job application that questions if an individual has ever been convicted of a crime.
The latest endeavor to “ban the box” in the Land of Enchantment is Senate Bill 120, otherwise known as the “Criminal Offender Employment Act,” which seeks to make it illegal for a private company to inquire into an person’s previous felony convictions on the job application. This measure, which is sponsored by Senator Bill O’Neill (D-Bernalillo) and State Representative Alonzo Baldonado (R-Valencia), would expand the current ban the box law regarding public employers over to the private sector.
Human rights activists applaud the intentions behind the bill because they say applicants with a felony drug conviction are often met with disregard early in the job selection process, which, of course, hinders their ability to secure gainful employment – regardless if they are a more appropriate fit than others lobbying for the same position.
“Finding a job is one of the biggest barriers for people with criminal convictions even if they are qualified for the positions they are applying for,” Emily Kaltenbach, director of the New Mexico chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. “This bill is smart economic policy by helping boost our state’s economy and reducing unemployment.”
Reports indicate that 1 in every 4 American adults has a criminal history, with a 70% unemployment rate after they are released from prison. Unfortunately, this leads the majority of these people back into a world of felonious indiscretion – a peril of a flawed system that contributes to a cycle of criminal downtrodden rather than a life of forward momentum.
“This bill is also smart on crime by focusing our resources to help reduce recidivism, rather than feeding into a cycle of incarceration,” said Kaltenbach. “We know that people with steady employment are less likely to commit crimes. And finally, this bill is about supporting our New Mexico families. An economically stable family is a healthy family.”
If the bill becomes law, New Mexico will join six other states, including Hawaii, Kansas, and New York, which have effectively passed measures to ban the criminal conviction box in the private sector. It is a move that would greatly benefit individuals who were convicted of a felony in their younger years, and continue to be haunted by the toll of its reverberations.
Ban the Box campaigns such as this look to eliminate the stereotypes inflicted upon people with a criminal past, especially offenders of marijuana-related offenses, by forcing employers to hire workers based on their skill set and overall qualifications rather than focus on their previous shortcomings. And while the bill would not prevent employers from conducting background checks or inquiring about criminal history during the interview, it at least allows those with a checkered past to get a foot in the door rather than an application in the trash.