Ban the Box!
Tonight, I got to testify before a Colorado legislative committee for the first time. I came to speak in support of HB:1305. Commonly called "Ban the Box" (advocates here are calling it "Chance to Compete"), it is one of the most powerful and achievable reforms that can be made to our criminal justice system.
The bill simply requires business to remove the question "have you ever been convicted of a crime" from the first round application -- this question can still be asked later and employers can still do a background check. We need this change for racial justice and economic justice.
When I was writing my remarks, my friend Malachi Huey kept coming to my mind -- the guy responsible for getting me involved in this issue. Hope you don't mind, brother!
Here's what I said:
Thank you Chairman and committee members. My name is Nathan Hunt, and I am here in support of HB 1305. I am the Director of Economic Justice for the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. We represent more than 100 congregations from multiple faith backgrounds across the state who work together for human rights and equality.
This is my first time to testify, so I’m nervous as heck but grateful to participate in our democracy, and all the more grateful to speak on something so close to my heart. A particular thank you to Representative Foote, Representative Melton, and Senator Guzman for championing this bill.
Before coming to the Interfaith Alliance, I was an entrepreneur who started two small businesses. Core to the mission at each was creating job opportunities and training for people with barriers to employment. In this work, I found that no one faces a harder road to finding a good job than people of color who had been convicted of a crime.
I hired multiple people who fit that description, and I can say from experience that companies who routinely pass over these applicants are missing out on many hard working, intelligent and responsible employees. The loss in productivity to the business sector coupled with the costs placed on taxpayers when these people can’t find work and fall back into our criminal justice system is staggering.
I first learned about the policy proposal to remove the criminal record check box and give people a real chance to compete through my friend Malachi Huey. Malachi is in his early thirties, soft spoken and genuine, with deep integrity and a impressive gift for business. But Malachi is also a formerly incarcerated black man and has struggled year after year to find work. Malachi lives in Fresno California, and when he heard about a similar bill being considered in his state, he took ownership for his life, drove up to Sacramento and started advocating. He also urged me to do the same, so here I sit.
The civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson wrote that, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” I imagine we would all agree. And yet many people with a criminal background looking for honest work are not evaluated in this light. It is time to make it easier to do the right thing, to make easier to find good work than it is to do a crime. HB 1305 gives us an opportunity to make that possible.
As a Christian, I am a believer in grace. I believe in forgiveness, and I believe in the human capacity for change. And because of my Christian convictions, I believe once people have served their time, they should be free to live a meaningful live and contribute to society.
For Malachi and the tens of thousands like him in Colorado, the Interfaith Alliance, congregations across this state, and I urge you to vote yes on HB 1305.