There’s a reason that a set of scales is often the symbol of our courts. The search for justice should always be a balance, making sure that punishments are proportionate to the offense.

That can’t always be done in a courtroom. A convicted felon can serve a sentence, complete probation and pay restitution, but still pay the price when they fill out a job application and check the box asking if they have ever been convicted of a crime.

Judges don’t permanently exclude people from the workforce, but unemployability is one of the collateral punishments that dog people long after their debt to society has been paid.

A measure before the Maine Legislature takes a step toward balancing that scale. It’s a bill that would prohibit the state from asking about criminal history in its initial application. A job candidate would be asked the question later in the process, but at a point where they could present a more complete picture of who they are and what they learned from their experience.

It’s about time Maine did something about this serious problem. The Justice Department estimates that 65 percent to 75 percent of former prisoners look for work but fail to find it in the first year after their release. People who are at high risk to re-offend and go back to prison are denied a chance to develop the structure and feelings of self-worth that come from holding a job.

Maine would be far from a pioneer in taking this step to make it easier for people to reintegrate into society after a criminal conviction. As part of a movement known as “Ban the Box,” 33 states already do what is being proposed in Maine: They don’t ask applicants for state jobs to indicate if they have a criminal history in their initial application. Eleven states also prohibit private employers from asking the question on the first application.

A bill like this was passed by the Legislature last year, but could not survive a veto by then-Gov. Paul LePage. With a change of administrations, it’s a good idea to bring the issue forward again.

Many of our actions have lifelong consequences, and people who have been convicted of a crime should be ready to answer questions about why they did what they did and why they should be trusted now.

But checking a box on a job application does not create an opportunity for that to happen. It just gives someone processing paperwork an excuse to cull the pile.

Lawmakers should support this reasonable attempt to better balance the scales of justice.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: