Public opinion on the fates of those with criminal records has seen a massive evolution in the past decade. Where a “live with the consequences” attitude once resided, one can now see much more sympathy and a sincere interest in the circumstances that led to an arrest, especially if it was committed as a youth or teen. In state after state, laws have been proposed and then passed which seek to eliminate “the box” – the field asking applicants if they have been previously convicted of a crime – from job applications. Other measures go even further and look to fast-track the cleaning of criminal records for those that have served their sentences.
Now the ultimate “man up and take responsibility” state, Texas, is getting in on the banning the box action as well. A bill in the Texas legislature now would allow those who have been convicted of a low-level and non-violent crime in the state to appeal one time for an “order of nondisclosure.” This order would allow individuals to petition a judge in court to consider granting them the right to legally check “no” on a college application, housing application, and employment forms.
Judges would, of course, be able to deny the request depending on the circumstances, but the bill would make for more cases in which they would have to legally hear out a request for some form of record expungement, or at least obscuring. The bill itself has bipartisan support, giving it a good chance of being passed into law in a soon-to-come vote. That said, the bill doesn’t come without its opposition. For one, a prosecutor-turned-lawmaker, Joan Huffman, said that the bill could put employers and their workers at risk; those on Joan’s side of the fence argue that an informed decision when hiring should be guaranteed to potential employers.
One of the most interesting things about the bill being on the table is the man who sponsored it, Doug Deason. He is a businessman from Dallas that has done very well for himself, but he says that it just as easily could have taken a different turn. When he was only 17, a house party got out of control and the night ended with him and a friend raiding the liquor cabinet of his neighbors, who were on vacation at the time. Actually, the night didn’t stop there, it stopped with Deason being arrested by the local police. After paying a fine and serving probation, however, he was able to get his criminal record expunged.
His father is also quite wealthy, and Deason reckons that if his family had not been so well-off, that the criminal conviction could have had a much more long-lasting impact on his future prospects. Recognizing this privilege, Deason is trying to grant it even to those who may have made a mistake but aren’t able to “pay to play” in the current system. Every time he’s checked the “no” box on an application form and seen another opportunity in front of him he knows that he could have just as easily been left with a lifelong stigma under different circumstances.