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County Board Considers ‘Ban the Box’ Resolution to Curb Hiring Discrimination

Should a person’s criminal past – recent, or decades old – bar them from work forever? Increasingly, public entities across the country are saying "no."

A "Ban the Box" resolution before the Genesee County Board of Commissioners would remove a question about applicants' criminal pasts on initial job applications. Photo: Justice Not Jails
A "Ban the Box" resolution before the Genesee County Board of Commissioners would remove a question about applicants' criminal pasts on initial job applications. Photo: Justice Not Jails

Soon a criminal past may no longer stand in the way of applicants landing a job with Genesee County.

The Genesee County Board of Supervisors is considering a proposal to remove the question about whether applicants have been convicted of a felony, at least on initial applications, the Flint Journal reports.

A resolution before the board stems from a “Ban the Box” initiative of the National Employment Law Project, which says asking the question on initial applications forces employers to ignore candidates who might otherwise be qualified for the jobs. The national group says it helps people assimilate back into society after their release from jail or prison and lead productive lives, helps curb systemic discrimination, and helps reduce unemployment, currently around 10 percent in Genesee County.

Ban the Box proposals have already been approved in Detroit, Kalamazoo and Battle Creek and Saginaw and Muskegon counties. Ban the Box legislation applying to both public and private employers has also been proposed in the Michigan Legislature.

Rep. Fred Durhal Jr., D-Detroit, who introduced the proposed legislation last spring, said it would cut back on recidivism and chip away at Michigan’s $2 billion annual corrections budget.

Hawaii was a pioneer in Ban the Box legislation, approving a policy in 1998 that required all employers, both public and private, to wait until after the initial screening process to ask applicants about their criminal pasts.

Now, public jurisdictions in 45 cities and counties and seven states have Ban the Box statutes. The ban has extended to private employers in four states – Rhode Island, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Minnesota – and in the cities of Seattle, WA; Buffalo, NY; Philadelphia, PA; and Newark NJ.

Ban the Box policies don’t prohibit potential employers from asking applicants about their criminal history. After the initial screening process, Genesee County officials would be able to ask about criminal convictions and do background checks under the terms of the resolution the commissioners are debating.

1 in 4 Adults Has Criminal Past

Lorene Randall of Flint has been lobbying Genesee County officials to adopt a Ban the Box policy and says eliminating the question “allows a person to have a one-on-one interview with the chance” to explain the circumstances of the conviction, the newspaper reported.

The proposal has been met with mixed reaction among commissioners.

One of its chief proponents, Flint Democrat Commissioner Omar Sims, said residents who have made mistakes in the past deserve a chance at employment. He said a simple twist of fate could decide if an individual has a criminal record and “I could have been on the front page of the Flint Journal,” but was fortunate.

One in four citizens in the United States has a conviction history, according to the NELP.

Commissioner Archie Bailey, a Democrat from Flushing, said he’s “a believer in justice” and thinks that people should have a chance to become productive members of society after paying for their crimes, “but I couldn't agree to (hire) people who have committed crimes against children.”

The resolution before the Board of Commissioners would provide:

  • No individual shall be excluded from consideration of employment based on his or her criminal history unless otherwise required by state or federal law, without being given the opportunity to explain the circumstances of the criminal conviction.
  • County departments, offices and agents of the county involved with hiring shall not inquire into or consider an individual's prior conviction until the individual is determined to be a candidate to whom a conditional offer is to be made.
  • County departments, offices and agents of the county involved with hiring shall advise applicants on the initial application for employment that a criminal history will be required for all candidates for county employment to whom a conditional offer of employment is made.

Commissioners are also discussing whether to subject vendors with county contracts exceeding $25,000 to the policy, the newspaper reported.

DISCUSS: Do you think the Genesee County Board of Commissioners should adopt a Ban the Box proposal? Do you think it should extended to private employers? Tell us why or why not in the comments.

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