UC Berkeley: Background Checks are "Demoralizing"
Group seeks to build a “prison to school pipeline.”
Beginning this week, UC Berkeley will no longer include a box for on-campus job applications that requires applicants to disclose their criminal history.
The policy shift to remove the box — common on job applications — went into effect Sunday amid a nationwide movement whose advocates say the requirement unfairly discriminates against formerly incarcerated individuals. Students and campus officials championed the change as a step toward inclusivity for such applicants, who face difficulties securing housing and jobs after their release.
Job applicants are still subject to background checks, according to campus spokesperson Roqua Montez, but these will occur later in the hiring process so applicants who are otherwise well-qualified won’t be discouraged from applying.
Clarence Ford, a UC Berkeley senior, described his job search following his release from prison in 2011 as a “demoralizing process” because of the box’s required disclosure.
“It’s at the front — it was pretty much a deterrent,” Ford said. “People see this and they get eliminated from the process, and they haven’t had a chance to showcase who they are.”
The change will affect approximately 9,000 people in non-academic staff positions, according to Jeannine Raymond, the campus Assistant Vice Chancellor of Human Resources.
“We were good enough to be students, but we weren’t good enough to be employees,” said Rodrigo Vazquez, a UC Berkeley senior and member of the Underground Scholars Initiative, the student group that proposed the change to administration.
The group has met with Raymond since last October to discuss revising the staff hiring process, inspired by legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013 that banned the box from the beginning of government job applications. A civil rights group dedicated to formerly incarcerated individuals, All of Us or None, assisted the USI in its dealings with administration.
More than 100 U.S. cities, counties and states have adopted some form of “ban-the-box” legislation, according to Montez. On Friday, President Obama signed a memorandum for a rule that would establish the ban for thousands of federal jobs.
“Banning the box on the application is the first step to understanding that people who are incarcerated are human beings,” said Andrew Barlow, a campus sociology lecturer and faculty adviser to the USI. “We’re coming through an era where we’ve incarcerated more people than anywhere in the world.”
The USI was founded in 2013 by a formerly incarcerated UC Berkeley student as a resource for students impacted by mass incarceration. The group seeks to build a “prison to school pipeline,” encouraging reintegration to society through higher education. Later this month, 15 students from the program will graduate in a special ceremony and fundraiser at which Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, will speak, according to Vazquez.
Vazquez said his group hopes the message sent by the policy change will resonate through the UC system and nationwide, calling attention to a student population often disqualified from low-income housing, government benefits and the right to vote.
“We feel like our population is politically abandoned and ignored,” Vazquez said. “This victory of banning the box could help us get to the next step of restoring formerly incarcerated people’s human rights.”