Target, the nation's second largest retailer, will no longer ask job applicants about their criminal history when they fill out job applications.
In Wisconsin, advocates for employing ex-convicts call the decision by the Target Corporation a step in the right direction but question whether the change is just cosmetic.
Finding a job after serving time in prison is one of the biggest challenges ex-offenders face when they finish their sentences. Lack of a job often forces people to return to a life of crime and end up back in prison.
Michelle Rodriguez of the National Employment Law Project say Target's decision to end the practice of screening out ex-offenders even before they can get an interview sets an example for other employers.
“Their applications aren’t going to be tossed,” says Rodriguez. “They're going to be considered. That chilling that effect of having that question on the job application, that’s going be removed so individuals can be encouraged to apply as well.”
The change might just be symbolic, according to Linda Ketcham of Madison Urban Ministry. Seven years ago, her organization that helps ex-offenders reintegrate into the community after prison lobbied Target to grant interviews to people with criminal records. She says they were told by Target that all applications were sent to a private firm to run criminal background checks.
“So it looks good,” says Ketcham. “I guess the question is whether they're actually changing their practices or are they just changing their application form.”
Ketcham says unless employers use the state's criminal database to run background checks they run the risk of getting faulty information about an applicant’s actual crime and could end up denying employment to someone who both deserves and needs a job.
In announcing the elimination of the question on the application form, a Target spokesman said the company will still run private criminal background checks after interviewing potential employees.