By: Diane Bernard, Public News Service – MD

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A new ban-the-box law that aims to help formerly incarcerated people avoid employment discrimination starts Saturday in Maryland.

Under the law, private employers with at least 15 full-time workers can’t require applicants to check the box on job applications that ask if applicants have a criminal record.

Monica Cooper was formerly incarcerated and is now executive director of the Maryland Justice Project. She says ban-the-box laws give folks who were in prison an equal chance for jobs without the stigma of a conviction or arrest.

“It helps in that we are never saying, ‘Don’t do a background check,'” she states. “What we ask is that you give people a fair shake at the interview. You’d be surprised at what gems you’ll find.”

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the law last year, stating it would result in costly human resources work.

But the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature overrode the veto last month.

About 70 million adults in the United States — almost one in three — have criminal records.

Cooper points out that having a conviction record reduces the chance of a job callback or offer by nearly 50%. And she says studies show that ban-the-box laws help keep ex-offenders from returning to prison.

“I truly believe that it will help in curbing recidivism,” Cooper stresses. “Some of those folks who have been locked out of being gainfully employed will become employed and will no longer be those individuals that are more than likely to re-offend.”

Maryland joins 13 other states, including California and Colorado, that have ban-the-box laws for private employers.

Congress just passed the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019. The law, which goes into effect in 2021, keeps federal agencies and contractors from asking about conviction history.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...