Mayor Moore and Members of the Petersburg City Council: Ban the Box in Petersburg VA
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For the sake of argument let’s say you’re a convicted felon. You’ve committed a crime, done the time and paid the fine—to use the vernacular of the felon community—but now you need to get on with your life. The first thing you probably need to do is get a job. You sit down with an application in front of you and there it is: The Box. It reads, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” You have to answer Yes or No
“Checking the box” on a job application means that you are admitting that you have been convicted of a crime or felony. Most people with criminal backgrounds know that when an employer specifically asks about a “clean background,” they are not interested in hiring an ex-offender. If they are willing to hire a person with a criminal background, it’s probably going to be 7-10 years after the conviction. In fact, there are major employers in the Petersburg area that state on their preliminary application that if a conviction occurred over 7 years ago, you do not have to disclose that conviction.
But what happens in the meantime? What happens if you want or need to go to work immediately after being released from prison? What employer is willing to give a qualified ex-offender a chance to work and be a responsible, productive citizen?
For the past year, I have been working for Pathways, a faith-based non-profit organization as the Education and Employment Placement Coordinator. Here at Pathways, we focus on employment, community revitalization and good health in the Petersburg community. As part of our employment initiative, we have a free technical school. In our technical school, adult students obtain marketable credentials such as HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response), CPR(Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation), OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and lead abatement credentials, just to name a few.
Since November of last year, our technical school has registered three different groups of students initially interested in obtaining these credentials, totaling 84 registrants of which 43 were convicted felons—51% and 36 had misdemeanor convictions or 43%. These numbers were staggering to me initially. However, according to a study completed by the National Employment Labor Project in 2011, an estimated 65 million people (or one in four adults) in the United States have criminal records.
I immediately began to research employment opportunities for persons with criminal backgrounds and policies that may be helpful in removing employment barriers for people with criminal records. I felt certain that Petersburg could not be the only city in the country dealing with this problem. In my research, I discovered the Ban the Box Movement.
A Ban the Box Policy supports removing the question about criminal backgrounds from the preliminary job application, allowing more qualified applicants to apply for positions without fear of discrimination based on criminal history. Instead the hiring process is encouraged to focus on current qualifications as opposed to past mistakes. Once the applicant has applied for the position and it is determined that a background check is needed, then the background check would be completed in the later stages of the hiring/application process. This gives the applicant an opportunity to explain their background in person and in front of the hiring manager. To clarify, there is no attempt to conceal the candidate’s background—only to put it in perspective as it relates to the candidate’s qualifications.
The National Employment Labor Project reports that as of October 2012, there are approximately 42 municipalities and seven states that have adopted a Ban the Box policy including the City of Newport News, Virginia. These policies, also known as fair hiring policies, are not all the same, however they all help to alleviate employment barriers and support employment for members of the community with criminal backgrounds.
For several months I have been advocating for the implementation of a Ban the Box Policy for the City of Petersburg. I believe that such a policy would help to promote employment and reduce employment barriers for qualified persons with criminal backgrounds in the Petersburg area.
Further, a Ban the Box Policy would help to decrease recidivism, giving qualified persons with criminal backgrounds the opportunity to go to work rather than go back to activities that may land them in prison again. Most importantly, implementing a Ban the Box policy would help to set precedent within the Petersburg business community regarding the importance of hiring qualified persons with criminal backgrounds. The result is giving convicted felons an opportunity to become productive and self-sufficient citizens of the community—completing the process of rehabilitation in a meaningful way that provides long term successes.
If you would like to see a Ban the Box policy in Petersburg, let your voice be heard. It’s quite simple. First, please sign this petition. Then contact your City Council representative. Let him or her know that you support Ban the Box in Petersburg and you would like a written policy to support this measure. Next, call City Manager William Johnson. Let him know that you are a citizen of Petersburg and that you support a Ban the Box policy for the City of Petersburg.
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