Campaign calls for an end to employment background checks for those who’ve been incarcerated

Center for Employment Opportunities launched ‘More Than a Background’ for Second Chance Month

Published On
Apr 01, 2024
Man dressed in contractor uniform poses for photos over the phrase “I am determined”

Editor's Pick

Everyone deserves a second chance, even those who have a criminal record.

That’s the message sent by the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) in a thought-provoking public awareness campaign launched in time for Second Chance Month.

The campaign, titled “More Than a Background,” focuses on raising awareness on the hiring discrimination consistently faced by people with a criminal record, despite any positive changes they’ve made in their lives.

Launched on Monday, the in-house campaign, including OOH and digital ads on social media, highlights actual participants in the CEO program who have worked to rehabilitate their lives after prison by upskilling, learning a trade and developing professional skills to re-enter society.

Using black-and-white portraits of the individuals, the campaign humanizes them with words of affirmation, including “I am determined,” “I am a mother,” “I am skilled” and more. 


The ads also detail statistics and information about hiring discrimination, especially as it relates to background checks during hiring. The goal of the campaign is to encourage both employers and state legislatures to pass reforms that limit the use of background checks in the hiring process, asserting that they only tell stories of the past, not the future, said Chris Watler, executive VP at CEO.


“We believe that if you can remove barriers and get people more training, it’s going to help them to connect to better jobs. It’s also going to help employers to find this talent pool that can really benefit their business,” Watler said. “But we know that employers are using background checks and too often what our participants are experiencing, and more broadly what we see in the economy, is that even when someone is qualified for a job, they’re being denied the opportunity because of their past criminal conviction.”

The campaign aims to encourage a discourse to challenge this standard on overrelying on background checks to instead give people a fair chance based on their skills, not the worst thing they’ve ever done.

“There are over 35 jurisdictions in the country where they have what are called fair chance laws, where an employer can only ask about a criminal conviction when they’re making a conditional offer of employment. But even in those circumstances, the background check is often being used to determine whether that employer wants to hire the person in the first place,” Watler said. “People with past criminal records are the largest group of marginalized talent in the country, over 75 million [people]. They’re great workers.” 

The campaign comes as nationally, 94% of employers run background checks to screen applicants, leading to higher rates of discrimination against the formerly incarcerated. According to a 2021 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), roughly 60% of people were unemployed a year after being released from incarceration and 40% were still unemployed four years post-incarceration.

Although employers have expressed a willingness to hire people with criminal records, studies show that having a record reduces employer callback rates by 50%.

Statistically, the use of background checks also disproportionately affects African Americans, who already get fewer callbacks without a criminal conviction than a white person with a criminal conviction. 
As part of the campaign, CEO is spreading information about and co-sponsoring the California Senate Bill 1345, known as the Just Access to Jobs Act. The bill seeks to improve upon ban-the-box reforms of 2017 by further limiting the use of background checks in the hiring process and providing more protection for employees with criminal records who face discrimination in the workplace.

The bill comes on the heels of a Los Angeles County fair chance ordinance passed in February 2024 that gives additional rights, protections and enforcement mechanisms for people with criminal history seeking employment. It applies to all private employers with five or more employees and the Los Angeles County government, which is the largest local employer. 

“There’s an opportunity to really question the use of background checks, which are filtering out otherwise qualified people for jobs,” Watler said. “People do not give someone an opportunity to see their full skills and the ways that they’ve rehabilitated themselves when they use that other information. Even for very qualified applicants, even if you have a college degree, that criminal record could be the deciding point that doesn’t get you a job.”


Apr 01, 2024
Client :
Center for Employment Opportunities

Need a credit fix? Contact the Creativity Editors

Project Type