Pretty much everybody has applied for a job at some point and that means pretty much everybody has seen that box on an application that asks you to check it if you have a criminal record.

Ban the Box Rally held in Trenton (Photo by Kevin McArdle, Townsquare Media)

What do you think of the idea of eliminating that box? It's more than an idea.

There's a bill in the New Jersey legislature that's been dubbed, "ban the box."

"People are being unfairly discriminated against in the employment process by a simple mistake they may have made ten years ago," claims Ray Chao, a Princeton student who is leading a group pushing for passage of the bill. "A lot of these offenses were committed in college when they were young. Drunk in public and disorderly conduct that happened when they were 19 years old."

The bill is formally called "The Opportunity to Compete Act."

It would prohibit an employer from conducting a criminal background check on job candidates during the pre-application and application process. The application process begins when a candidate inquires about employment and ends when an employer has extended a conditional offer of employment.

Once a candidate has been found to be qualified and has received a conditional offer of employment, an employer is authorized to inquire about and consider a candidate's criminal history.

Before an inquiry into the candidate's criminal history is made, the employer must provide the candidate written notice of the inquiry and obtain the candidate's consent to it. The candidate also shall be provided with a written "Notice of Rights" outlining the protections that the candidate is entitled to under the bill.

"What this bill does is it allows everyone to compete fairly for jobs and gives everyone the opportunity to do so in the initial stages of the application process," says Chao. "Right now, they (job applicants) are forced to check a box on the initial job application that says they have a criminal history. It doesn't allow for employers to truly understand the nature and circumstances of the crime."

Advocates claim that by making the job process fairer, the legislation could increase public safety and decrease government spending on corrections by reducing the number of people cycling through the criminal justice system.

They say the bill would also help the economy by giving more New Jerseyans the ability to earn an income, pay taxes and become consumers for New Jersey businesses.