UC is making a change to avoid discouraging qualified previously incarcerated people from applying to work at UC.

Under UC’s new policy, which will begin as early as October, applicants will no longer be asked to check a box on the initial employment application indicating whether they have been convicted of a crime. Instead, information about prior convictions will be requested during the background and reference check stage, after applicants have advanced to the final stage in the hiring process based on their qualifications, talents and skills.

UC conducts background checks on all job finalists for staff positions. Employment offers are made after a qualified person successfully passes an overall background check for the position. If a job applicant has a prior conviction, human resources staff will carefully assess the type of conviction, when it occurred and its relevance to the position.

“This change to UC’s hiring process creates more opportunity for more qualified and capable people. Many have earned UC degrees after their legal difficulties and they should be able to continue to build a successful, stable future for themselves,” said Dwaine B. Duckett, UC’s Vice President of Systemwide Human Resources.

The policy change grew out of a discussion initiated by the systemwide Underground Scholars Initiative, which started as a UC Berkeley advocacy group supporting formerly incarcerated Berkeley students. The Underground Scholars played a key role in a similar policy change at UC Berkeley last year, as part of a nationwide movement known as “ban the box.”

Clarence Ford and Rodrigo

Underground Scholars Clarence Ford and Rodrigo “Froggy” Vazquez. Credit: Cathy Cockrell

Clarence Ford, now a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, and Rodrigo “Froggy” Vazquez, a recent UC Berkeley graduate, spearheaded the “Ban the Box” campaign as part of the Underground Scholars policy team. They worked with UC Human Resources (HR) to help them understand the discouraging message that the prior conviction checkbox on an initial application can send to a formerly incarcerated person — don’t even bother to apply.

“The thought of checking that box on every application – before I had a chance to show what I had to offer – used to make me very pessimistic about the future,” Ford said. “This decision by UC HR is a real victory in our work to increase opportunities for people impacted by the criminal justice system.”