President Obama is making it easier for ex-convicts to get federal jobs

Obama is getting rid of criminal history questions on federal job applications

Ex-convicts may have an easier time joining the workforce because President Barack Obama is getting rid of the criminal history questions on federal job applications.

The likelihood of a callback or job offer is reduced by nearly 50 percent for a man who has a criminal record.

To change that, a movement called “Ban the Box” is underway.

The idea is to prevent federal employers from discriminating against former prisoners who are trying to get back into the workforce.

A former employee with the La Crosse Criminal Justice Department said the change could lead to a stronger local workforce.

When filling out a job application, there are certain questions an applicant is expected to answer, but there’s one box in particular that can land people in trouble.

“There’s a box on some employer’s applications, which asks if someone has had a criminal conviction,” said Jane Klekamp, a former 20-year employee with the La Crosse Criminal Justice Department.

If the answer is yes, it could be an immediate mark against the applicant.

“From the perspective of the criminal justice population, it can be really tough, obviously, when an employer is looking at a stack of applications, where there’s no box checked and ones where there are boxes checked,” said Klekamp.

It’s an issue Klekamp knows all too well.

“While it’s something that people may not think they do, it’s hard to imagine that an employer wouldn’t take that into consideration,” said Klekamp.

But she is hoping Obama’s latest effort to “Ban the Box” will help.

“It means millions of Americans have difficulty even getting their foot in the door to try to get a job, much less actually hang on to that job. That’s bad for not only those individuals, it’s bad for our economy,” said Obama.

“It’s not that the employer can’t ask it eventually or won’t ask it eventually, but it takes it out of the upfront process of taking someone out of the running,” said Klekamp.

However, the executive order only applies to federal employers, not to contractors.

“So if there is a contracted agency working for the federal government, they could still ask the question,” said Klekamp.

But Klekamp said it at least gets people thinking about the issue.

“One of the things the criminal justice management council has talked about in La Crosse County is how can we encourage employers to take it off their initial application. Again, understanding there are some employers that would want to know eventually, but if it can be taken off that front process, it could get some people in the door that would not make it originally,” said Klekamp.

La Crosse has already eliminated a criminal history box in applications for county jobs.

Obama’s executive order for federal employers takes effect immediately.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin released a statement in support of Obama’s most recent effort, saying “Those who have made mistakes and paid their debt to society deserve a chance to move forward and live a productive life.”

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