Former inmates will have a much better chance of finding honest employment now that the new “ban-the-box” ordinance has been approved in Richmond, California.
In a 6-1 vote, the Richmond, California, City Council approved one of the US’ most comprehensive “ban-the-box” ordinances last Tuesday. The “box” refers to the criminal history box on job applications, and the new ordinance, which takes affect in September, “forbids employers from requiring applicants to reveal their criminal histories at any point during the application or hiring process … including during the final rounds of interviews or after they’re hired.”
Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, who introduced the ordinance, told The Huffington Post:
We’ve really taken it up a notch. 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.
As Beckels also notes, the ordinance is also “especially timely” due to the fact that California is gearing up to implement AB 109, which is a bill “aimed at reducing prison overcrowding by releasing thousands of low-level inmates by the end of 2013.” She said, “We’re going to have a lot of folks coming back from incarceration and looking for work here soon.” However, Beckels also points out that Richmond’s new ordinance makes specific exceptions for “sensitive jobs,” which include positions that involve working with children and the elderly or in law enforcement.
Supporters of the ordinance assert that it will “help give people with criminal histories a chance to rejoin society and the workforce in a positive manner.” Linda Evans, an organizer with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children said, “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 … 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.”
Critics, however, assert that ban-the-box laws can put employers in “a potentially dangerous position.” Kelly Knott, senior director for government relations of the National Retail Federation, told The Wall Street Journal, “We have a responsibility to protect our customers, protect other employees and then the company itself.” And Councilman Tom Butt, the one member who voted against the ordinance told the Richmond Pulse, “”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. 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, and employers should have discretions.”
Both sides have valid arguments, at this point only time will tell if the ordinance passed last week in Richmond, California, will truly be a good or bad thing. More than likely, it will be some combination of the two because very little in life is ever truly black and white. There may be those who take advantage of the opportunity, such as the “career criminals” Councilman Butt pointed out, but there will also be many more who use the chance being given to them to better themselves, their families and their communities. To begin again with a clean slate.