Politics & Government

Kansas government job applications won't ask about criminal history

Gov. Jeff Colyer announces that job applications for state agencies will no longer ask about criminal history.
Gov. Jeff Colyer announces that job applications for state agencies will no longer ask about criminal history. The Wichita Eagle

Job applications for Kansas agencies will no longer ask whether someone has a criminal record, after Gov. Jeff Colyer signed an order Wednesday to “ban the box.”

The ban-the-box movement seeks to stop employers from automatically asking job applicants if they have criminal histories. Supporters say asking about criminal records on applications unfairly stigmatizes individuals with records years – even decades – after their convictions and makes it more difficult for individuals released from prison to be employed.

“It provides applicants with the opportunity to explain their unique facts and circumstances and what has happened to them and how their lives have changed,” Colyer said.

The executive order issued by Colyer will stop applications for executive branch jobs from asking about criminal history. Applicants may still be asked about criminal history further in the hiring process, however. Applications for jobs where individuals with felonies are prohibited from working will also continue asking about criminal history.

Colyer signed the order at a packed Statehouse ceremony attended by Republicans and Democrats. He singled out Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, for coming to him with the idea.

Faust-Goudeau said she previously introduced legislation to ban the box hasn't advanced. She said she has constituents who have been incarcerated and want to go to work.

“This will let you get yourself in the door. The employer can still say, ‘Have you ever been convicted of a felony in the last five years?’ They can still asked that question,” Faust-Goudeau said. “Again, this is not about anything else except allowing people – especially the individuals I represent in inner-city Wichita, Kansas, who cannot get a job simply because of a past criminal record.”

Kansas has no ban the box law, unlike some states. Thirty-one states have laws or policies about asking about criminal history, according to the National Employment Law Project.

A bill introduced by Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, that would ban the box for state agencies was given a hearing last year, but didn't advance.

"To see this happen, to be able to represent the citizens of Kansas that have struggled for so long to take care of their families -- at the same time, I think this is going to reduce recidivism in Kansas," Finney said.

Eleven states have required the removal of criminal history questions from job applications for private employers, according to the employment law project. Dozens of cities have also implemented their own versions of ban the box, including several in Kansas.

Some businesses have also moved on their own to stop asking about criminal history early in the job application process. Koch Industries, based in Wichita, banned the box in 2015.

“Removing questions of criminal history from state employment applications will allow Kansans a fair chance at employment based on their skills and aptitude, not based on past mistakes,” Mark Holden, senior vice president and general counsel at Koch Industries, said in a statement.

Skeptics of ban the box commend the goal of helping individuals with criminal convictions get jobs. But they point to research that suggests that while ban the box increases job callbacks for individuals with criminal records, it reduces the likelihood that employers call back or hire young black and Latino men.

That’s according to a 2017 Urban Institute report that looked at research on the effects of ban the box. The Urban Institute said research suggests that when information about a person’s criminal history is not present, employers may make hiring decisions based on their perception of the likelihood that the applicant has a criminal history.

“The results do not necessarily mean that ban the box should be eliminated,” the Urban Institute said. “Additional policies, regulations and alterations can ensure that ban the box improves employment outcomes for people with criminal histories without causing negative effects on people of color.”

Colyer's order applies only to state government and doesn't affect private businesses. It also does not apply to state contractors.

Asked if he would support expanding ban the box to private business, he indicated it would be up to the Legislature.