By Lee Romney, CALmatters
Many of the 7 million Californians with a prior arrest or conviction can likely relate to Sandra Johnson’s job hunting experience nearly a decade ago. On every employment application, she checked a box that inquired about criminal history.
“It was terribly hard,” the 59-year-old mother and grandmother said of the months she spent seeking work after completing a San Francisco drug treatment program. “I would go and apply and I would never hear back because that box was always there.”
Eventually, Johnson got lucky. The head of an organization that was helping her with computer skills referred her to a paratransit company. She was honest about her past, got the job, and for more than five years drove clients to and from dialysis. She said she came in on days off, if called. She was named employee of the month. She even did a little promotional video for her bosses.
“I was straight and narrow and I just wanted a second chance,” Johnson said. “I was supporting myself and that gave me something to feel good about.”
Then, in 2013, she said, the company changed hands, ran a background check and canned her.
Johnson’s voice still cracks when she recounts her devastation and feelings of shame that none of her progress had mattered. Now, however, she’s part of a grassroots movement fighting for change.
All of Us or None, an organization made up of formerly incarcerated men and women, has chalked up victories in recent years, working with allied groups to persuade 150 city and county governments and 29 states to adopt some form of “ban the box” changes — most applying to government jobs. The laws and policies don’t prevent employers from inquiring about criminal history, but delay such questions until later in the hiring process.
California has had a “ban the box” law for city, county and state employers since 2014 that delays questions about conviction history, with a few exceptions, until an applicant has been…