Amid Nat’l Prison Reform Effort, Formerly Incarcerated Seek End To Employment Discrimination

By AARON MORRISON, Staff Writer (IBTimes)

Published: October 8, 2015

When Dorsey Nunn walked out of San Quentin State Prison in California nearly 35 years ago, the native San Franciscan set out to find a job and finish his education. But only one person was willing to hire the 31-year-old African-American after 11 years behind bars on a felony conviction, and that person worked about 100 yards away from the prison gates.

It was the attorney that helped shave several years off of a life sentence who offered Nunn a clerical position in the prison lawffficeat San Quentin. The job, which Nunn held for six and half years, would eventually inspire his participation in a national movement to end institutional discrimination against people who are formerly incarcerated.

“Homeboy gave me a‘I feel sorry for you’ job,” said Nunn, who is now 64 and co-founder of “All of Us or None,” a San Francisco-based civil rights organization advocating for formerly and currently incarcerated people and their families. “They say you can get out and just pull yourself up by your bootstraps. But then you see the system is already stacked against you.”

As the U.S. Department of Justice prepares to release thousands of federal prison inmates at the end of this month, activists said it means little if those people still face barriers to securing a job. Approximately 70 million Americans have an arrest or criminal conviction on their records and struggle in the job market daily — a fact that experts say reduces the national domestic product by tens of billions of dollars. Status quo in the criminal justice system perpetuates a belief among the formerly incarcerated that there isn’t enough public sympathy to make sweeping changes to the employment background check policies.

About a decade ago, Nunn and a national group of prison reform activists started the “Ban the Box” movement, a campaign that calls for removing questions about criminal convictions from applications for employment and other purposes. As of August, over 100 cities and counties, and 18 states have removed questions about conviction history from their public employment applications and several major American corporations have followed suit. While some action has been taken by national lawmakers, there is still no law prescribing consequences for employers who unfairly disqualify formerly incarcerated people because of their criminal record.

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