Many Americans who carry the burden of a criminal record often struggle. In addition to facing judgement from society, they are often also unable to get hired for a job. Having a criminal record that employers can see isn’t fair to those who have changed due to their prison experience and are determined not to commit crimes and live a better, more productive life.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 1 in 5 American adults has a criminal record, and a Los Angeles survey found that 60 percent of employers would “probably not” or “definitely not” be willing to hire someone with a criminal record.
These statistics have affected many teens in America, including Terron Cherry, a student at Match Middle School. Cherry’s father had trouble finding a job when he was released from prison two years ago.
“They’d decline him sometimes because of his criminal record,” Cherry said. “When you’re a criminal, and you get out, you deserve a second chance.”
Xavon Bentley, another student from Match Middle School, has a father who has been out of prison for 10 years after committing a felony.
“He works night shifts at Stop & Shop now,” Bentley said. “He gets paid pretty well, but I would like to think that he can do better.”
To try to help people with criminal records get jobs, Massachusetts went as far as to make a “ban the box” law in 2010, which removed the box asking whether the job applicant had a criminal record or not. Although this seemed like a beneficial law, the employment rate for those with criminal records dropped 2.6 percent within the two years after it was enacted, according to the Boston Globe, proving the law to be ineffective.
More recently, the Massachusetts state government decided to alter the CORI, or Criminal Offender Record Information, laws a little bit. CORI is the system in Massachusetts which provides employers and others with the criminal records of job applicants. Previously, misdemeanors were sealed in five years and felonies in 10 years. This means that after that period, employers will no longer have access to the criminal records of their applicants. In other words, this past crime will no longer affect people’s future employment opportunities. Last October, however, it was decided that misdemeanors are now sealed in three years and felonies in seven years. This is a huge improvement, but more actions toward criminal discrimination are needed.
One local organization trying to help is More Than Words. More Than Words is a non-profit organization that strives to help teenagers and young adults get back on track with their lives. The organization runs a bookstore that sells used books. They hire “system-involved” youth with difficult pasts, pay them, and give them guidance to succeed in life. “System-involved” is the term More Than Words likes to use to describe the youth who have been involved with the court system. More Than Words directly works with Massachusetts courts to help clean teens’ records and set them on track to success.
Ryan McCarthy, the Associate Director for Career Services at More Than Words, thinks that criminal records need to be treated differently. “Right now the system is black and white, and I think that if someone had a charge as a juvenile, that should be looked at differently,” he said.
The system is very unforgiving when it comes to criminal records. Different jobs require different candidates but at the end of the day, we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and we deserve to get more opportunities if we’re willing to change.