Day 21: Taking Action to Ban the Box
Today is Day 21 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to learn more about how we can better welcome formerly incarcerated returning citizens into our congregations and communities. Click here to learn more about “Ban the Box” initiatives. Click here for more resources , family actions and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
I’m Meg Riley. Many of you know me as a UU minister, and one of the folks who initiated the Standing on the Side of Love program. You may not know that I am also a very proud parent of a 17 year old. Right now, I’m especially proud that my child, Jie, is interning at TakeAction Minnesota in the Justice 4 All program, working for racial equality in Minnesota.
Every day, Jie tells me horrific realities about racial discrimination in Minnesota. We pride ourselves on being “Minnesota nice,” but statistics don’t back this up. Here are three things that Jie has told me:
1. Minnesota has the worst racial jobs gap in the country. That is to say, African American Minnesotans are three times more likely to be jobless than their white neighbors.
2. The driving factor behind this discrepancy is the fact that African Americans make up 5.5% of Minnesota’s total population, but 37% of our prison population. 92% of employers run background checks in Minnesota and two-thirds of employers refuse to hire applicants with criminal or arrest records. This makes it almost impossible for formerly-incarcerated individuals to get an interview, much less a job.
3. Minnesota also has the highest rate of recidivism in the nation, at 62%. The legal discriminatory hiring practices of employers in this state, coupled with the policies that lock formerly-incarcerated individuals out of society, lead many such individuals to resort to participating in criminalized economies.
Justice 4 All has been working to break the cycle of incarceration at two levels. One is at the corporate end, working with companies to change their hiring practices. The other is through pushing policy reform for background checks, many of which provide inaccurate and outdated information. This past fall, we got Target, a Minnesotan company, to be part of a public meeting where they committed to Ban the Box nationwide. This is a major step; the second largest retailer in the U.S. will take the question that asks about a candidate’s criminal history off their job applications. We are tackling institutional racism, work that requires diligence and commitment. This work is love; by being present and intentional while fighting systems of oppression I am growing the collective well-being. Love.
Click here to learn more about criminal justice reform and to see where your state stands. Wherever you live, we suspect you will also be astonished by what you learn about who is incarcerated and the difficulties they face after they have served their time. Love calls us to act. Learn what is true where you live, and who is working for a more just and loving society.
Rev. Meg Riley + Jie Wronski Riley