Philadelphia has led the way in requiring all employers, public and private, to strike questions about criminal convictions from job applications.
"That's spectacular," but only a start, said Carlton Mayers II, an attorney with the national NAACP.
Speaking at a state NAACP conference Friday, Mayers said giving ex-offenders a chance to proceed to a job interview is critical to helping them restart their lives and not return to criminal activities.
Philadelphia banned the box for all employers in 2011.
On Oct. 1, Lancaster removed criminal history questions on applications for some city jobs, but its ordinance — like one adopted in Pittsburgh in 2012 — doesn't affect private employers.
Recidivism rates are a third lower for those who find work and earn a livable wage, said Mayers, an NAACP criminal justice specialist.
"The Ban the Box campaign is one solution" to crowded prisons, he said, referring to a push to remove boxes on applications that job-seekers must check if they have a criminal record.
"It's very important that people coming out of incarceration find stability," housing and employment, he said.
Mayers said applicants should have an opportunity to get a job interview at which they can explain their criminal history and offer evidence of rehabilitation. Background checks should be made after giving an applicant a conditional job offer.
Racial profiling hit
In an interview, Mayers also said the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is advocating for national and state laws to end racial profiling by police officers.
Pennsylvania is one of 20 states that does not have a law prohibiting racial profiling.
"We want police to focus on what people are doing as opposed to how a person looks," Mayers said.
The NAACP says police should be subject to prosecution for repeatedly profiling people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
Mayers, in remarks at the conference, said the 700,000 prisoners released every year need help transitioning to society. Instead, society throws up barriers, such as disqualifying ex-offenders from public housing or retaining custody of children.
It's like America has created a new caste, he said.
Mayers noted that 5.8 million Americans aren't allowed to vote because of felony convictions, and a disproportionate number are African-Americans.
In some states "more than one in five African Americans has lost the right to vote ... even though they've now paid their debt to society, served their time in jail," he said. "We are still paying taxes, but we can't vote."
"These numbers are ridiculous," he said. "Something has to be done."
The conference continues Saturday at DoubleTree Resort, 2400 Willow Valley Pike, with open-to-the-public sessions on education and election protection.