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Milwaukee Group Part of National Campaign to Ban the Box

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Maybe you’ve recently heard the phrase “Ban the Box.” The box is the one you might find on a job application. It asks whether you’ve ever been convicted of a crime. A campaign kicked off in Wisconsin on Tuesday to remove the box, but not everyone is on board.

In Wisconsin, the group WISDOM is joining the national campaign to Ban the Box. WISDOM helps people who’ve been incarcerated get back on their feet. Executive Director David Liners says the box asking job applicants about their criminal history serves as a barrier to employment.

“People who have a conviction history find it to be a ball and chain that follows them the rest of their life. We’re not saying that conviction history can’t be a factor in hiring, but people just want to have a chance to be seen, to be able to tell their story and be able to say maybe what’s changed since that happened,” Liners says.

One person who had trouble getting a job after he got out of prison was Charles Hampton. He served eight years for dealing drugs and was released in 2010. Hampton says he applied for several jobs in his previous line of work as a medical transport driver, and came across the box each time.

“When I would fill out job applications, I would tell people I can explain during the interview, but they would say no, we want you to explain it now and I would tell them it’s difficult to explain in a couple of lines and they would say, that’s what we want you to do,” Hampton says.

Hampton says employers rejected his applications but never stated the reason.  He says after a few months, he finally got a job when he struck up a conversation with an employer outside of an office setting.  Hampton says he was able to fully explain his situation and convinced the employer to take a chance on him.

One group opposed to a new mandate for employers, is the business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Spokesman Chris Reader believes each company should be able to decide whether to dump the box without government interference.

“Companies know best what their workforce needs are, how their employees interact with each other, what their customers’ needs are and companies should be left alone to decide the makeup of their workforce,” Reader says.

According to WISDOM, several Wisconsin employers have removed the box from their applications in the past year. The group is encouraging others to do the same.

At the national level, supporters are urging President Obama to issue an executive order banning the box on federal job applications.