Nebraska May 'Ban the Box' on Employment Applications

Kessler says the problem with the box is twofold: It discourages people from applying or encourages them to lie about their past just to get their foot in the door. To him, removing the box didn't add problems, but eliminated some of them.

"We are not taking extra steps to hire folks," Kessler said. "We're just not creating obstacles to keep someone out of work."

Obstacles for Ex-Convicts

Reluctance and lack of proper information are what advocates commonly cite as the main stumbling blocks preventing 'Ban the Box' from being enacted in cities and states.

"It takes some enlightenment and political courage to introduce legislation promoting the rights of ex-convicts," said Nebraska state Sen. Council.

For Council, enlightenment means straying from the traditional view that the only way to reduce and prevent crime is to be tough on crime.

"I believe we ought to be smart on crime," she said.

That's the same phrase used as a motto by the group All of Us or None. This national organizing initiative was formed by ex-prisoners in California in 2003, vowing to fight discrimination of ex-felons after their technical sentence ends. Not the least of them is the criminal history box.

"I prove that [criminal history] doesn't define who I am, my character and my accomplishments," said Tolston, who graduated from high school in three years and now attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with enough scholarships to cover all his expenses. "Denying someone employment solely on the basis of the checked box, I don't think it's right."

But for now, with the box in place, the All of Us or None coalition argues, ex-offenders not only feel discouraged from applying but also struggle to put their past behind them and move on.

"When does the punishment end for people?" asked Burton, one of the groups founding members. To her, the answer is: "When a person is at the end of that sentence, the punishment should end."

ABCNews.com contributor Alina Selyukh is a member of the University of NebraskaABC News On Campus bureau.

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