The first time I heard the term "ban the box," I thought it might be the catchphrase of activists campaigning against the use of solitary confinement in prisons. But while curbing the use of solitary is a laudable goal, and one shared by most of those who support "banning the box," the term has become a rallying cry for those seeking to help offenders once they leave prison.

"Ban the box" is a campaign to end the requirement that job applicants check a box on their applications if they have a criminal record. On Monday, President Obama announced a new directive instructing the Office of Personnel Management to delay criminal background checks for all federal and federally contracted jobs until later in the application process.

Including the box in job applications seems like a convenient way for employers to screen out potential criminals. But allowing it in the early stages of the job application process often causes employers to discriminate against former offenders before knowing anything more about them, such as their job credentials, or their criminal history, such as what the crime was and how long ago it occurred.

Banning the box wouldn't prevent employers from learning about the past criminal history of an applicant. It would simply delay when that information is received, except for high security positions.

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