Ban the Box: Giving Ex-Offenders a Fair Chance at Employment

09/09/2011 § Leave a comment

Ban the Box: Giving Ex-Offenders a Fair Chance at Employment.

Ban the BoxAmericans with criminal records face legalized discrimination in the workplace, at the voting booth, and in their daily lives. But grassroots leaders across the country are breaking through “tough on crime” policies and winning major challenges to their second-class status.

The National Employment Law Project estimates that 65 million Americans have a criminal record, counting both convictions and arrests that did not lead to convictions. Since 1994, the fraction of major employers screening for criminal records has grown from 20 percent to more than 90 percent. People of color are disproportionately convicted, and suffer more discrimination after completing their sentences. Black ex-offenders are four times less likely to get initial job interviews than their white counterparts, despite equivalent credentials and offenses.

In Massachusetts, residents denied the ability to earn a living and support their families began to speak out and organize. A broad-based coalition led by ex-offenders and supported by youth organizations, labor unions, workforce agencies, and faith groups waged a 5-year “Ban the Box” campaign to end overt discrimination and eliminate the felony check-box from initial job application forms.

In July 2010, after dozens of major demonstrations, hundreds of legislative meetings, and thousands of constituent phone calls, the Massachusetts legislature passed a landmark criminal records reform bill including a “Ban the Box” provision. The new law makes employers evaluate applicants more fairly by allowing background checks only after an applicant is deemed qualified for the job.

California, Minnesota, and New Mexico have removed the question from state job applications, and more than 25 major cities have banned the box for city jobs. Hawai‘i and Massachusetts have extended the guidelines to all private-sector employers, setting a policy example for the rest of the nation.

My First Vote Map tocMy First Vote: Ex-offenders on reclaiming the human right to vote.

Formerly convicted Americans are also challenging felony disenfranchisement laws. In the last 15 years, they have won partial victories in 23 states restoring the vote for over 800,000 voters. Still, 35 states prevent over 5.3 million people, including 13 percent of all black men, from voting.

After decades of prison expansion, spiraling costs, and high recidivism rates, ex-prisoners and their allies are forcing states to review policies of wholesale exclusion. Massachusetts’ grassroots victory adds momentum to a growing national movement challenging the new Jim Crow and building a more just and inclusive society.

Aaron Tanaka wrote this article for Beyond Prisons, the Summer 2011 issue of YES! Magazine. Aaron is the executive director of the Boston Workers Alliance, co-coordinator of the Massachusetts “Ban the Box” campaign.

pelican bay prisoners hunger strike

07/10/2011 § Leave a comment

new orleans prison expansion?

01/08/2011 § Leave a comment

via dave jenkins by our folks at critical resistance.  the video captures the attempt in new orleans to expand prison beds ($250 million tag), while core social services remain devastatingly underfunded.  this model of investing in repression while letting core community infrastructure rot out feels acutely egregious, but is actually emblematic of this country’s direction for the last 40 years.  we have the case for participatory budgeting and prison abolition rolled into one.

Gaza Youth Breaks Out – Manifesto

01/06/2011 § Leave a comment

i came across this manifesto on FB yesterday, and was intrigued by the raw rhetorical rejection of zionist oppression, as well as the earnest critique of failing internal palestinian leadership.  8 young authors of the document met with a guardian reporter under conditions of anonymity, giving context to a manifesto that they never expected to galvanize such fast attention.

GYBO on FB and wordpress

Gaza Youth Break Out Manifesto

Fuck Israel. Fuck Hamas. Fuck Fatah. Fuck UN. Fuck UNWRA. Fuck USA! We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, Fatah, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community! We want to scream and break this wall of silence, injustice and indifference like the Israeli F16’s breaking the wall of sound; scream with all the power in our souls in order to release this immense frustration that consumes us because of this fucking situation we live in; we are like lice between two nails living a nightmare inside a nightmare, no room for hope, no space for freedom. We are sick of being caught in this political struggle; sick of coal dark nights with airplanes circling above our homes; sick of innocent farmers getting shot in the buffer zone because they are taking care of their lands; sick of bearded guys walking around with their guns abusing their power, beating up or incarcerating young people demonstrating for what they believe in; sick of the wall of shame that separates us from the rest of our country and keeps us imprisoned in a stamp-sized piece of land; sick of being portrayed as terrorists, homemade fanatics with explosives in our pockets and evil in our eyes; sick of the indifference we meet from the international community, the so-called experts in expressing concerns and drafting resolutions but cowards in enforcing anything they agree on; we are sick and tired of living a shitty life, being kept in jail by Israel, beaten up by Hamas and completely ignored by the rest of the world.

There is a revolution growing inside of us, an immense dissatisfaction and frustration that will destroy us unless we find a way of canalizing this energy into something that can challenge the status quo and give us some kind of hope. The final drop that made our hearts tremble with frustration and hopelessness happened 30th November, when Hamas’ officers came to Sharek Youth Forum, a leading youth organization ( with their guns, lies and aggressiveness, throwing everybody outside, incarcerating some and prohibiting Sharek from working. A few days later, demonstrators in front of Sharek were beaten and some incarcerated. We are really living a nightmare inside a nightmare. It is difficult to find words for the pressure we are under. We barely survived the Operation Cast Lead, where Israel very effectively bombed the shit out of us, destroying thousands of homes and even more lives and dreams. They did not get rid of Hamas, as they intended, but they sure scared us forever and distributed post traumatic stress syndrome to everybody, as there was nowhere to run.

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rip oscar grant

01/01/2011 § Leave a comment

a dance tribute to grant –

i wrote a piece on the grant case a while back that i dont have much more to add to.  ill just repeat this meme ive heard in the hood as of recent: how is it that michael vick got more time for the dog fighting BS than mehserle did for killing grant in cold blood?  and yea that ish is cold, blud.

prisoners strike in georgia

12/14/2010 § Leave a comment

5 days ago, georgia prisoners in up to 10 institutions started the biggest prison strike in US history. GA prisoners have halted operations of their institutions, demanding a LIVING WAGE FOR WORK.  this situation is very current, elaine brown former black panther party chair is serving as outside spokesperson.  (check out their demands at the bottom of this post)

although the current strike is a multi institutional effort (the beauty of contraband cell phones sold to prisoners by guards), there are obvious similarities to the walpole prisoners strike in Massachusetts 1973.  jamie bissonette, a personal mentor, captures this 3 month prison rebellion in her book “when the prisoners ran walpole: a true story in this history of prison abolition,” reviewed by my true homie toussaint.  during this time, the prisoners went on a 70 day strike, which ended with a walk out by the prison guards, leaving the prisoners to run the institution on their own.  the organization of prisoners: the National Prisoners’ Reform Association opened up the prison to 24/7 outside civilian observers, where the prisoners maintained facilities operations and ended interracial violence for the first sustained period in institutional history.  the prisoners sought formal recognition by the national labor rights board (or whatever they’re called) for official certification as a labor union.  though denied, the inclination of prisoners to self identify as workers propelled the historic moment and reemerges in the organic rebellion in georgia today.

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LeftTurn piece on CORI reform

12/03/2010 § 2 Comments

Breaking Barriers to Employment: Criminal Record Reforms in Massachusetts

December 1, 2010

By Aaron Tanaka

This summer, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a landmark law reforming the state’s criminal background check system. Aimed at improving acc ess to jobs, housing and other vital services for residents with arrest records, overhauling the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) has been a target for Massachusetts community activists for over a decade. The successful passage of CORI reform marked a notable break from War on Drugs crime policies that have driven the rapid expansion of police and prisons since the early 1970s. Massachusetts’ precedent-setting laws frontline a growing national movement to reverse the systemic economic barriers faced by formerly convicted people.

While CORI reform gains attention as a model national policy, a deeper story accounts for a dogged grassroots coalition that willed these changes into law. Within Massachusetts’ advocacy sector, the CORI reform campaign has long been heralded as an authentic community- based effort where ex-prisoners, those with court records and the chronically unemployed were at the center of the strategy and action. After a decade of protest and six years of legislative campaigning, the CORI reform victory affirms the power and potential of our communities to reshape the policies that structure our lives.

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connecting the dots, prisons jobs profits

09/01/2010 § Leave a comment

“globalization” and the “war on drugs” both started in the early 70’s:

prison population in US:  war on drugs, prison industrial complex, the beast etc.

wealth gap in US: rich got richer, globalization, neolibearlism etc.

manufacturing jobs in US: off shoring, globalization, deregulation etc.

jobless males + prison growth: the hood, the struggle, the untenable ‘solution’ etc.

lets also note that once you’re incarcerated, you are no longer counted amongst the unemployed

10 rules for dealing w police

08/05/2010 § Leave a comment

“10 rules for dealing with police” by flex your rights . org

most useful video ive seen on this topic.  seems like it would be a great educational tool, particularly for those who work with young people.

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CORI reform passes!!

08/04/2010 § Leave a comment

we passed CORI reform last saturday night!  despite having bills passed through both chambers, it ended up being a nail biter until the end.  final enactment votes took place between 10-11pm, with only 1 hour left in the 09-10 legislative session.

i guess im still in shock.  after 5 years of dogged organizing, im just impossibly grateful that we pulled it off.  its particularly real to celebrate this with folks who ive been working with since the start of BWA.  our people faced CORI discrimination and volunteered for years to fight for something that people told us was impossible.  well in 2 days, we’ll be with governor patrick as he signs the bill into law 2 blocks from our office in grove hall.

ill look forward to spreading the word about our policy changes.  massachusetts is now the first state in the country to “ban the box” ie removing the criminal history question from initial job applications.  we helped pioneer this policy at the municipal level in 2005 and got it for all public state jobs in 2008 through executive order.  in the meantime, dozens of cities including san francisco, chicago, st paul / minneapolis, dallas have followed suit.  in the last year, minnesota and new mexico also banned the box for state public job applications.  but as with many model laws, MA pushed it a step further again, expanding the policy to all public and private employers across the state.  excitingly, we were the ones pushing Massachusetts.

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