This session, the Maine Legislature could save money, increase employment and lower crime through a simple, effective measure. L.D. 1566, the “fair chance” bill or “ban the box,” would eliminate the following check-off question from preliminary job applications: “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” A box is to be checked if the answer is “yes.”

Without the box, this question would be dealt with through interviews and background checks. However, it would no longer be a roadblock before job applicants can show they are qualified to work. The employer retains the discretion to hire the most qualified applicant. (An alternative “fair chance” bill, L.D. 288, would only cover state jobs.)

Research shows that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job callback or offer by nearly 50 percent. Stopped by the check-off on the application, applicants with a record must find another way to live. Nationally, over 75 percent return to crime within five years (and, eventually, to prison). But a survey in six cities shows that those who were employed shortly after release had recidivism rates of 8 percent or less.

Major employers, including the city of Portland, Wal-Mart and Target, have already removed the question from their applications. Twenty-four states and over 100 cities have adopted “fair chance” policies because they work. In Philadelphia, a study found that hiring 100 formerly incarcerated people would increase income tax contributions by $1.9 million, boost sales tax revenue by $770,000 and save $2 million annually by reducing criminal justice costs associated with recidivism.

L.D. 1566 would help Maine’s economy. Our labor shortage could be alleviated by hiring people determined not to return to prison. Employing former inmates strengthens their families, reduces crime, reduces the need for welfare, reduces prison costs and increases tax revenue. We should “ban the box” on preliminary employment applications.

Victoria Adams

West Kennebunk