Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

That's an uncomfortable question to have to answer. Especially if you're trying to get a job. And having to respond by checking a box "yes" or "no" — without much room for additional information — doesn't seem fair.


Image via the City of Baton Rouge.

If you disclose a criminal background to a potential employer, it's hard to know whether it was held against you.

Unless, of course, you get the job, which is unlikely for former convicts, according to a study by Princeton and Northwestern universities. It's a problem that could affect millions, as over 600,000 people exit prison every year.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

As part of a broad plan to stem mass incarceration, President Obama is asking federal agencies to hold criminal background inquiries for later in their hiring processes to avoid potential discrimination. But the president is not alone on the issue.

A growing number of political leaders want to "ban the box" by removing the question from job applications.

Laws banning the box have passed in 19 states and over 100 cities from every nook of the country. They're known as "fair chance" laws.

Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for ColorOfChange.org.

The idea isn't to get rid of a safeguard. Employers still have the right to run background checks. Banning the box just levels the playing field for folks with criminal pasts who want to rejoin the workforce but are likely to be dismissed solely because of their pasts.

These laws are passing with strong support from Democrats and Republicans at all levels of government.

At the municipal level, for example, New York City's fair chance law passed in a landslide, and the Louisville, Kentucky, city council passed a law without dissent.

And at the state level, the Nebraska legislature unanimously passed a fair chance law in 2014, making it the first "red" state to take the action. Just months later, GOP presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie signed a fair chance hiring bill into law in New Jersey.

“Everyone deserves a second chance in New Jersey. Today, we're banning the box." — Gov. Chris Christie. Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images.

City officials in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are among the latest to join the ban-the-box movement. In one of the highest-crime cities in the country, many Baton Rouge residents face hiring discrimination because of their criminal records.

City council member C. Denise Marcelle sees fair chance laws as an important way to change the trend by opening doors for ex-cons to make a living without crime.

Photo by the City of Baton Rouge.

A federal "ban the box" bill — the Fair Chance Act — has been introduced by a bipartisan group in Congress.

And a bizarre alliance of lobbies agree on the issue. Among them are the NAACP, the ACLU, and — wait for it — the Koch brothers.

Banning the box has also surfaced in the 2016 presidential race, particularly among the candidates for the Democratic nomination. Hopefully issues like it — ones that are plainly about doing what's right — can pierce the static and keep us focused on what's really at stake when we're choosing our leadership.

Here's a lighter take on banning the box by "The Daily Show" that sheds a little more light on why it's gaining so much support: