Gov. Matt Bevin showed true leadership Wednesday with his executive order “banning the box” on state government executive branch employment applications.
“The box” is the place job applicants check to indicate whether they have a criminal record. Checking “yes” often means a short trip to the trash heap for an application from an otherwise qualified job-seeker.
The added barrier means former offenders don’t get a callback, that critical chance to explain in person why they should get the job.
With fewer legitimate work options, former offenders struggle to support their families and are more likely to re-offend, criminal justice experts say.
Bevin’s order, and his urging private businesses to follow the state’s lead, offer hope to tens of thousands of Kentuckians. Criminal background checks will still be part of the hiring process, but a criminal record won’t be an automatic disqualifier.
This builds on expungement legislation last year that allows people with non-violent felony convictions to apply to have those offenses removed from their records after a five-year waiting period.
Bevin deserves credit for his support of these and other criminal-justice reforms but his failure to restore voting rights to even one former felon during his 14 months in office remains deeply disturbing.
Not only has Bevin not used his power as governor to restore rights to individuals, he locked as many as 180,000 former felons out of the voting booth by rescinding an executive order by former Gov. Steve Beshear that would have restored voting rights to those with non-violent felony convictions.
So, Bevin seems to be encouraging a form of second-class citizenship in which former felons will, finally, have a better chance to support themselves and pay taxes but still have little access to the ballot box.
Michael Hiser, a former felon who is now a counselor and criminal-justice reform advocate, expressed this frustration in an interview with WFPL’s Ryland Barton. Bevin’s executive order is a good “first step,” he said. But, he added, “the problem that we have here is that people are paying taxes, they’re getting jobs, they’re trying to go on with their life but they have no voice in Kentucky.”