Nation’s Largest Reentry Group Sponsors California Legislation to Raise Awareness about Reforming Criminal Background Checks

By Darlin Navarrete

NEW YORK, NY – The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), the nation’s largest reentry organization, announced its newest campaign, “More Than a Background,” aimed to raise awareness on criminal background checks with hopes for reform.

According to CEO, this new campaign will use testimony along with imagery and interactive digital assets to spread awareness of the difficulties individuals face when attempting to acquire employment with criminal records despite their qualifications.

The CEO explains the objective of this project is to offer a different perspective and educate the public on the inequalities background checks bring to the hiring process, motivate employers to steer towards unbiased hiring practices, and pave the way for future reforms.

Sam Schaefer, executive director of the Center for Employment Opportunities, said, “Every individual has amazing attributes and identities that not only make them significant and unique but also make them exemplary workers. They are skilled, hardworking, they are mothers, advocates and so much more.

“Yet, sadly, because of the widespread overreliance on background checks in the employment process, they are diminished to checking a box that blocks them from accessing opportunities that they are more than qualified for.”

CEO said it has seen the unfair treatment and discrepancy of workers with criminal backgrounds throughout the hiring process, and this issue has progressively been acknowledged by states and cities that approved fair chance laws.

A former CEO participant and Advocacy Leadership Committee member said, “It didn’t matter that I had 22 years of restaurant management skills. When I returned from prison in 2022, I couldn’t even get a call back… a foot in the door. I wasn’t given the opportunity to be evaluated fairly based on my qualifications.”

He added, “Today, I’m proud to say, I’ve taken this experience to become a fair-chance employer myself, and am providing opportunities to others that are returning from prison and facing the same obstacles I did.”

CEO noted 94 percent of employers nationwide run background checks on applicants, and with insufficient employment protections for people who were incarcerated, it has caused this group to experience the highest unemployment rate than any other group.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) said in its 2021 report that approximately 60 percent of people who were incarcerated were still unemployed a year after release, and “40 percent were still unemployed four years post-incarceration.”

Despite employers claiming their willingness to hire individuals with criminal records, Couloute and Kapf in an article entitled “Out of Prison and Out of Work: Unemployment among formerly incarcerated people,” they noted the employers act otherwise, and that “evidence shows that having a record reduces employer callback rates by 50 percent. What employers say appears to contradict what they actually do when it comes to hiring decisions.”

Couloute and Kapf expand on the issue, adding, “For those who are Black or Hispanic — especially women — status as ‘formerly incarcerated’ reduces their employment chances even more.

“Overall, we see working-age ‘prison penalties’ that increase unemployment rates anywhere from 14 percentage points (for white men) to 37 percentage points (for Black women) when compared to their general population peers. Our findings mirror prior research establishing that both race and gender shape the economic stability of criminalized people.”

There is now California legislation that would limit background checks in hiring, said CEO, co-sponsors of the California Senate Bill 1345, the Just Access to Jobs Act.

CEO explains this bill “seeks to improve upon ban-the-box reforms of 2017 by further limiting the use of background checks in the hiring process and providing more protection for employees with criminal records who face discrimination in the workplace.”

CEO adds, “The bill comes on the heels of a Los Angeles County fair chance ordinance passed in February 2024 that gives additional rights, protections, and enforcement mechanisms for people with criminal history seeking employment.

“It not only applies to all private employers with five or more employees, it applies to Los Angeles County government, which is the largest local employer.”

About The Author

Darlin Navarrete is a first-generation DACA student with a bachelor's in Political Science with a concentration in Race, Ethnicity, and Politics from UCLA. Being an honors student, Navarrete enjoys an academic challenge and aspires to attend law school and become an immigration attorney. Her passion for minority rights and representation began at a very young age where she identified injustices her family encountered and used them as outlets to expand her knowledge on immigrant rights and educate her family. Outside of academia, Navarrete loves spending time with her family, working on cars, and doing community service.

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