I let out a cheer when I saw the news Monday that President Obama signed an executive order to Ban the Box, creating a more level playing field for people with records. When 9to5 started organizing to Ban the Box in Georgia in 2011 and create fair hiring practices on city and state-wide levels, we had no idea we'd be here just a few years later. This is a real win for our families. But we still have a lot more to do.
If you've ever applied for a job, you've probably seen the box we're talking about. Applications often require you to check if you've ever been convicted of a crime. That box effectively bars nearly 70 million people with an incarceration record from finding a job. An estimated 60 to 75 percent of Americans released from prison cannot find work throughout their first year back home. Organizing to Ban the Box was our effort to allow applicants to be judged on their current skills and qualifications while not being immediately screened out because of a past mistake.
9to5's role in the Ban the Box movement is unique because of our focus on women - the fastest growing segment of the prison population. It is imperative that our 1 million sisters with records have a chance to use their skills to support their families. 65% of women in state prisons have minor children, and one quarter are pregnant during their incarceration or have had a baby within the previous year. When hiring practices discriminate against people with records they hurt our families, our communities, and our nation.
With the momentum built from leading five victories in Georgia at the city, county, and state levels, 9to5 took our Ban the Box campaign national, with campaigns in Wisconsin and Colorado as well as our organizing for this executive order. We've worked with other organizations led by directly impacted people to lift our collective voices about the problem and the solutions.
9to5 leader Daphine Lay of Atlanta spoke out at a July rally in front of the White House, urging President Obama to sign the executive order. Twenty years after her conviction, Daphine's record still traps her in low-paid, temporary jobs despite an impressive set of skills and certifications.
Daphine told her story, explaining, "When I was younger, I saw young men in the neighborhood disappear. They were in prison, mainly for non-violent crimes and when they got out, they'd often struggle to make it and wind up back behind bars."
"When I turned 18, I got my first apartment on my own and I got a job cleaning office bathrooms. I made one mistake and my life was never the same. After being convicted of a felony, I never got calls back and I got turned down time and time again. It became real discouraging. I had three children so I had to get on government assistance. The government had to take care of my family because they wouldn't let me do it."
Daphine is an incredible woman who needs the chance to meet with an employer before they write her off because of a 20 year old conviction. She's not asking for charity, she's asking for a chance to show herself and her skills. It's people like Daphine who made this movement as big as it is and showed the dire need for our system to change.
After knocking on thousands of doors, collecting petition signatures and making even more phone calls encouraging their neighbors to call on President Obama to Ban the Box, Daphine and other 9to5 activists celebrate his decision to do the right thing. She says, "I'm overjoyed about President Obama signing the Ban the Box executive order because I know that this will open the door for families all over the United States to be able to bounce back, get on their feet, and make positive changes in their lives. It shows that one mistake does not have to define you for the rest of your life. Now, we have a chance."
But as we celebrate this major victory, Daphine and I both know that the fight is far from over. President Obama's executive order only relates to federal hiring practices. It's going to take a lot more hard work to Ban the Box on federal contracts, in additional states and municipalities, and with private employers but I know we can do it. As long as we stand together and continue the fight, we're going to keep creating the change we need to make our lives better and our families stronger.