Last year, 24-year-old Majid Mohammad applied for a job at a department store. For many potential employees filling out a job application, the question about criminal history is a non-issue. But for Mohammad, an Aurora native who served jail time for a nonviolent robbery he committed at age seventeen, checking yes on that box could be the reason he was never called in for an interview.
"Mistakes happened, and I take ownership of that. But I can still provide value," says Mohammad, who's in college and eventually wants to earn his Ph.D. in astrophysics.
On Tuesday, January 29, the State House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would ban the criminal-history question on private-sector job applications.
Co-sponsored by representatives Leslie Herod and Jovan Melton, the "Ban the Box" bill, as it's known, would prohibit private-sector employers from doing two things in addition to "banning the box": advertising that a person with a criminal history may not apply for a position, and stating on an application that a person with a criminal history may not apply for a position. Employers would be exempt from the bill if a position requires a background check by law or if a person with a certain kind of criminal history is prohibited by law from taking a particular job.
"While the bill keeps that question off the initial application, employers are still able to run background checks. But at least you’ll be able to look someone in the eye and say this is what I did, this is how far I’ve come, and I want to get to work," says Herod.
Colorado would become the twelfth state to "ban the box" on private-sector job applications; more than thirty states, including Colorado, have already done so on public-sector job applications.
Proponents of the bill argue that the criminal history box often serves as a "need not apply" sign for people with records. "Simply posing the question on an application deters many people from applying in the first place," says Jack Regenbogen of Colorado Center of Law and Policy, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income Coloradans.
Without that initial box, the more than 1.8 million Coloradans with criminal histories will likely be more inclined to fill out job applications, he says. And Herod thinks that's an effective way to lower recidivism rates.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"The number-one factor ensuring that someone doesn't go to jail is employment," says Herod.
Melton pushed for this bill at the State Capitol in 2016 and 2017, but it's always been killed at the behest of some members of the business community. According to Regenbogen, opponents like the Colorado branch of the National Federation of Independent Business and the Colorado Chamber of Commerce expressed concerns about increased legal liability for businesses.
To address those concerns, the 2019 version of the bill exempts businesses from lawsuits that may arise from the legislation and instead says any issues would be dealt with administratively and with fines. The Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses support the new version of the bill, saying it takes a "very measured approach." The bill still needs approval from the House and Senate.
Asked whether she's optimistic that the bill will pass, Herod says, "I think this is the year."