Thursday, May 09, 2013

I Continue to Miss Minnesota, And IT Continues To Remain Cool

It's no secret here that I love Minnesota and wish I had never left (cure you, fortune of getting a good job in this economy!). But my homesickness only gets worse every time Minnesota decides to become even cooler than it was previously.

This week has been a pretty good one for people of conscience in the land o' lakes. First, earlier in the week the MN House gave the ok to the "Ban the Box" legislation, meaning it now only needs to be signed by Gov. Dayton, who has already promised to sign it. In short his bill will change employment law in Minnesota, most notably requiring public employers to wait to conduct criminal background checks until the interview stage of the process, and will not allow employers to discriminate based on crimes that have nothing to do with the job and/or for convicted persons who pose no risk to the public (that's way over-simplifying it, read the pdf attached above for details).

This is huge for many obvious reasons, but possibly the biggest is that it removes the permanent punishment many people receive for criminal convictions that happened years ago and bear no relevance to their current situation (statistically speaking, even ex-felons who have done prison stints are no more likely to offend than the general public after 7 years on the outside). It's also huge because, not too surprisingly, using criminal background checks as a filter has a strongly racialized affect. Both because of the racism of our criminal justice system (but that's an entire course, not something that fits into a blog), but also because of perceptions of criminality.

For example, here's a graph of results from Devah Pager's famous audit study of the impact of criminal records:

The graph measures how many people from the study received a call back after a job application. The only difference between the pairs of people who applied for a job was a (fictitious) criminal background; otherwise they dressed the same, answered questions the same, turned in identical resumes, etc. As you can see, not only does having a criminal record make on far, far less likely to get a call back, you can see that Black job applicants without a criminal record are less likely to get a call back than white applicants with one.

The other development is happening right now, as the MN legislature debates a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Although the vote is yet to happen, it is widely believed there is more than enough support in the legislature, and again, Gov. Dayton has already publicly declared his willingness to sign it into law.

So in the span of one week, Minnesota will (likely) have dealt a strong blow to the dangerous ideologies of permanent punishment and homophobia.

Not too shabby, Minnesota.

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