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  California City Bans The Use of Criminal Background Checks in Hiring
August 5, 2013

Robin Wilkey
Robin Wilkey
'Ban The Box' Ordinance In California City Is Landmark Move For Former Inmates On Job Hunt
Posted: 08/05/2013 4:56 pm EDT
ban the box0
Officials in Richmond, Calif., have approved an ordinance that forbids employers from requiring applicants to reveal their criminal histories at any point during the application or hiring process.
In a 6-1 vote, the City Council approved last Tuesday one of the nation's most comprehensive "ban-the-box" ordinances, a reference to the criminal history box on job applications. The ordinance will take affect in September.
While similar legislation has been passed in dozens of municipalities across the country, the Richmond ordinance takes it a step further by not requiring applicants to disclose criminal histories at any point, including during the final rounds of interviews or after they're hired.
"We've really taken it up a notch," Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, who introduced the ordinance, told The Huffington Post. "By introducing one of the most comprehensive plans in the country, our hope is to reduce unemployment in Richmond, reduce recidivism in Richmond and give these people who want to, a chance to make a change."
Beckles noted that the ordinance is especially timely as California braces for the implementation of AB 109, a bill aimed at reducing prison overcrowding by releasing thousands of low-level inmates by the end of 2013.
"We're going to have a lot of folks coming back from incarceration and looking for work here soon," she said.
Beckles also noted that the ordinance does make exceptions for "sensitive" jobs, including positions working with children and the elderly or positions in law enforcement.
Supporters say ban-the-box ordinances help give people with criminal histories a chance to rejoin society and the workforce in a positive manner.
"Once we pay our debt, I think the playing field should be fair," Andres Abarra, a former inmate, told The Wall Street Journal.
According to the Journal, Abarra served 16 months for selling heroin, but was fired from his first job out of prison after a background check.
They "let me go on the spot," he said.
Linda Evans, an organizer with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, argues that the practice is not uncommon.
"We believe, and we know from speaking with employers, that many times if someone checks the box 'yes, I have a past conviction,' that application is thrown in the garbage," she said in a YouTube video about the ordinance posted last year.
"We try to point out to the employers that there are many highly qualified people who have had some kind of interaction with the law who would be an asset to their employment pool," she continued.
But critics say ban-the-box laws put employers in a potentially dangerous position.
"We have a responsibility to protect our customers, protect other employees and then the company itself," Kelly Knott, senior director for government relations of the National Retail Federation, told The Wall Street Journal.
Richmond's lone dissenter, Councilman Tom Butt, said that he agrees with the sentiment of ban-the-box laws, but that the Richmond ordinance goes too far.
"Most of the (felony conviction box) ordinances across the country are all fairly consistent with each other and fairly consistent with (the guidelines established by) the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission," he told the Richmond Pulse. "This Richmond ordinance pushes it way beyond what was done before."
"There are people who are career criminals and not somebody that you want to put to work in your business," he said, "and employers should have discretions."
California City Bans The Use Of Criminal Background Checks In Hiring
Written by David Gee
August 5, 2013
Saying tougher sentencing laws, particularly for drug crimes, has made post-incarceration unemployment a large problem, city officials in the San Francisco suburb of Richmond have banned inquiries about a job applicant’s criminal history.
The city of 100,000 people, which has been plagued by both high crime and high unemployment, became the latest among a group of 10 states and 51 cities and counties to pass an ordinance limiting criminal background checks.
In Richmond’s case, the law takes effect in September, and will forbid city contractors from asking anything about a job applicant’s record.
The new ordinance, referred to as “ban-the-box,” because many job applications contain a box to check if the applicant has a criminal record, passed 6-1. However, it does have exceptions for jobs working with children and seniors, and other “sensitive positions” as defined by the police department.
It’s about fairness in hiring. What this policy is about is leveling the playing field.”
It’s about fairness in hiring,” said Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, sponsor of the ordinance, to the Contra Costa Times. “What this policy is about is leveling the playing field, a playing field that has not been level for black and brown folks.”
Beckles describes the ordinance as the most “cutting-edge” ban-the-box law in the country. It doesn’t prevent an employer from doing a background check, but the city does say it prevents criminal history from being used as an applicant screening mechanism.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has warned managers about using criminal histories in hiring decisions because it disproportionately affects minority applicants.
Arrest and incarceration rates are particularly high for African American and Hispanic men. African Americans and Hispanics are arrested at a rate that is 2 to 3 times their proportion of the general population. Assuming that current incarceration rates remain unchanged, about 1 in 17 White men are expected to serve time in prison during their lifetime; by contrast, this rate climbs to 1 in 6 for Hispanic men; and to 1 in 3 for African American men.”
In Richmond, nearly 80% of local parolees are unemployed, according to a city staff report.
In Richmond, California, nearly 80% of local parolees are unemployed, according to a city staff report.
Andres Abarra of Richmond served a year-and-a-half in San Quentin for selling heroin. When he got out of prison he found a temporary warehouse job through a local staffing agency. A month later the agency ran a background check on him, found out about his past, and fired him on the spot.
Once we pay our debt,I think the playing field should be fair,” Abarra told The Wall Street Journal. He now works for an advocacy group called Safe Return Reintegration Research Project. They hire and survey parolees who return to Contra Costa County to identify what services they need to stay out of prison.
One of the myths is that when people are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated that it gets rid of the problem,” says Eli Moore, director of Safe Return. “But most people come back after a couple of years, and 95% return to their old neighborhoods. So you’re really just pausing the problem.
A lack of employment options contributes greatly to recidivism. In Richmond for example, more than 7 out of 10 parolees will re-offend and return to prison, according to the Office of the Governor’s website.
Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt was the lone dissenting vote, after his suggestions to amend the ordinance and allow employers some latitude to inquire about criminal history were rejected.
“I think it will be a nightmare to enforce and will discourage business and investment.”
I think it will be a nightmare to enforce and will discourage business and investment in Richmond,” he told the Contra Costa Times.
One local resident wrote to the newspaper saying, “I don’t care if you’re white, black, brown or any other color…..if you’ve been convicted of theft a few times it would be nice to know before I trust you in my business.”
What do you think? Good idea or bad? Does it level the playing field or overreach to the point it eliminates information that says something relevant and salient about an applicant’s character and employment suitability?
- See more at: http://staffingtalk.com/california-city-bans-the-use-of-criminal-background-checks-in-hiring/#sthash.3kBsGAYL.dpuf