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Friday, December 19, 2014

“Ban the Box” hopes to help former criminals

The measure would ban the ‘crime check’ box on job applications.

Beginning nine months ago, the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence set out to implement a new ordinance, aptly dubbed “Ban the Box,” which would, as the name suggests, outlaw the “box” on job applications that requires applicants to indicate a history of criminal activity to potential employers.

The measure is going to be presented to City Council in November.

According to the National Employment Law Project, 12 states and over 60 cities and counties have adopted the campaign thus far. Since work on this initiative began, strides have been made in bringing “Ban the Box” to Columbia and its employers, both public and private.

“(The ordinance) is asking employers to wait until a face-to-face interview to ask about convictions, rather than just having anyone who has ever had any kind of criminal background immediately not be considered for the position,” said Michael Trapp, the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence Co-Chair. “What we’ve seen is that a majority of homicide perpetrators have extensive criminal records. There’s a road that people walk down and the more that we can pull people out of it, the safer we all are.”

While concerns have been raised that higher-level offenders such as sex offenders and murderers should not be allowed the chance to re-enter various workplaces, Trapp noted that there are both state and federal laws in place that will still work to keep specific types of offenders away from specific types of occupations, despite the implementation of “Ban the Box.”

Some workplaces, including day-care centers, financial services and gas stations with lottery tickets are legally mandated to deny employment to applicants with a history of sexual predation, fraudulent use of money and the like, Trapp said.

“(Potential employment) would depend on the nature of the offense, the date of the offense and any evidence of rehabilitation, but fundamentally it would be up to employers,” Trapp said. “It’s just easier for people to be able to explain their own stories and that offers a new perspective.”

Criminal records will still be considered when searching for employment. However, this consideration will not take place until after employers have had a chance to meet with applicants in person that they’ve taken an interest in on paper.

The interview process offers the opportunity for any potentially concerning details about an applicant to come into play, while also allowing employers to get a sense of the applicant beyond their past, freshman Abbey Colclasure said.

“I would be OK with working with someone who has a criminal record so long as they get through the interview process,” she said. “No one should ever be looked at negatively solely for their background. People can change.”

One of the main factors in this change is the ability for ex-offenders to find their way back into society, Trapp said.

“We really looked at the data of who has committed those crimes, and the biggest determinant of whether someone goes back to prison or not is whether or not they have a job,” Trapp said. “If we help these people to get back to work and have a sense of self-worth and a paycheck and tie them into mainstream society, it will benefit the city of Columbia as a whole. This is not a case of ‘let’s be nice to ex-criminals,’ it’s let’s take care of our community and help people stay safe.”

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