American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas Bill of Rights Essay Contest Winners all Bryant High School Students

2015-16 Topic: Should Employers “Ban the Box” on Employment Applications?

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
April 25, 2016 9:15 am

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas awarded three prizes to Arkansas High School students for their entries in the organization’s annual Bill of Rights Essay Contest. The question for this year’s essay was: Should Employers “Ban the Box” on Employment Applications? “Ban the Box” is a nationwide campaign aimed at ensuring that the job applications used by federal employers and the contractors and subcontractors who work with them remove a box the applicant must check if he or she has a criminal record.

“The ACLU and others want to Ban the Box because checking that box makes it almost impossible for the formerly incarcerated to find jobs,” said ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar, “something essential for this population to stay out of prison.” In 2015, President Obama banned the box for federal employees. Sklar described this as “an important step forward,” then added, “but the President could extend that opportunity to the millions of people who work for federal contractors or sub-contractors–a quarter of the U.S. workforce: that’s more than 40 million people.”

According to the Department of Justice, more than 650,000 people are released from prison every year, and the DOJ identified ability to get employment as key to reducing recidivism.

This year’s winners were all from the class of English teacher Tara Seale at Bryant High School: the prizes went to Rachel Curtis, First Prize, Sarah Brady, Second Prize, and Kateleen Crotchett, Third Prize. Ms. Seale thought that if the students had to make an argument on a current issue, it would stimulate critical thinking.

The ACLU of Arkansas sponsors the Bill of Rights Essay Contest annually, to encourage students to understand that the Bill of Rights is a living document that affects their lives. The contest is open to Arkansas students in grades 9-12, and was established in 1994, upon receiving an initial gift from the late Edwin Dunaway. First prize is $500, Second Prize is $300, and Third Prize is $100.

First Prize winner Rachel Curtis described the importance of the “Ban the Box” movement
this way:

“While caution towards a formerly incarcerated person seems logical on the surface, it completely disregards the human being behind the box. … The movement does not imply that the employer remains permanently oblivious about an applicant’s criminal history. Banning the box simply delays the process, allowing the employer to make a more informed decision. … The heart of the movement is not simply about the box itself but the consequence that falls on the millions of Americans who must check it.”

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