“Box” Ban Moves Forward

by Paul Bass | December 15, 2008 3:19 PM | | Comments (18)

DSCN0182.JPGAs it urges local businesses to give ex-offenders a shot at jobs, New Haven government’s making sure it does the same itself.

On Monday the DeStefano administration sent to the Board of Aldermen a proposal to “ban the box” on job applications for not just government jobs, but jobs at private firms on city contracts.

“The box” is the section of a job application in which people are asked to mark whether they’ve been convicted of a felony.

The city’s removing that box from applications in order to give ex-offenders a shot at “getting through door,” as Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield (pictured with Newhallville Alderwoman Katrina Jones) put it at a City Hall press conference Monday afternoon.

The proposal directs the city not just to remove the box, but to refrain from asking applicants about their criminal history during job interviews. If the city decides to offer an applicant a job, then the human resources office will do a criminal background check. If a conviction shows up, then the applicant will return for a subsequent interview to determine whether or not that background renders him or her unfit for the job. For instance, felonies are more problematic for potential cops and firefighters than for custodians. (The school board is not covered under the proposal.)

The most important part of the proposal: Directing private companies to follow the same rules when hiring people for work under city government contracts.

The proposal is scheduled to be introduced at the Board of Aldermen Monday night. Goldfield and Jones spoke in support of the proposal and predicted its passage in early 2009.

“The real work here is going to be recruiting employers to look at this population and not immediately blacklist them,” Mayor John DeStefano said. He said his administration has been working with the Chamber of Commerce to convince private employers in town to commit to hire more ex-offenders, and not to eliminate them from the get-go based on their records. That’s a harder sell if the city itself doesn’t follow the same path, the mayor noted.

“This is not about being soft-hearted. It’s about making common sense,” he said. Some 5,000 people in New Haven have criminal backgrounds that make it hard to find jobs, he said. Connecticut drops off around 25 people a week from jail into the city; “at present rates, almost 10 of these 25 may be expected to recidivate if nothing is done to intervene,” according to a City Hall handout.

An estimated 70 percent of non-fatal shooting victims and 50 percent of murder suspects have criminal records. Studies have shown that ex-cons who have jobs are less likely to commit new crimes.

“These folks.. can either be with us and constructively employed. Or they can be with us and walking around with nothing to do,” Goldfield argued.

DSCN0191.JPGWarren Kimbro (pictured) called Monday’s proposal a “giant first step” in addressing hte larger challenge of reintegrating ex-offenders into New Haven. Kimbro does that full-time as head of Project MORE. He’s working with the city’s Community Services Administration on a broader prison re-entry campaign.

At Monday’s press conference, Kimbro spoke of his firsthand knowledge of how second chances do work. Good jobs can help people turn around their lives and contribute to the city, he said He spoke of an unnamed prominent New Havener who has been CEO of a local organization for the past 26 years, following a prison term for murder.

He was talking about himself.

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Posted by: Streever | December 15, 2008 3:30 PM

While I applaud this as a brave move, I question if it will actually acheive it's stated goals.

I'd like to reference Professor Strahilevitz:

He was recently recognized by the New York Times (this Saturday in the "Year in Ideas") for a theory that greater privacy engendered greater discrimination.

He makes a link to subconcious bias towards minorities when their criminal record is unknown.

I believe the Professor is still here, a visiting Professor at Yale--which he graduated from-- I think it'd be valuable to include him in this discussion at this time.

If his research is true, and this is why african-american men are rejected in favor of caucasian males for jobs when the question goes unasked, it'd certainly damage the abilities of all african-americans to obtain employment.

Perhaps there is another fix to the problem of felons being un-employed? I know that Strahilevitz has some ideas for this, & would be glad to see his presence at the meeting.

Posted by: Walt | December 15, 2008 4:27 PM

Tough problem

Isn't Warren Kimbro himself really the same felon/murderer/CEO whom he cites above?

That is how I remember it. Please correct me if there is any error..

Certainly tough to be a felon, but every job given to a felon is one less job opportunity for poor Joe Niceguy who always obeyed the law.

Really a quandary. Which one should get the special, favored treatment?

Posted by: sarah28 | December 15, 2008 5:28 PM

Random drug test'm!


Posted by: City Hall Watch | December 15, 2008 9:06 PM

This idea is ridiculous and dangerous on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. First, it sets the city up to be sued if it doesn't follow the detailed procedure for hiring a felon. The city has an extensive record of not following the hiring rules it already has and paying a heavy price for it. This will be more of the same.

Second, the rules say the city will not be allowed to ask about criminal backgrounds until AFTER it has already comitted to hiring the felon. Only when a criminal record check is done will the city be able to deny employment for cause, said cause being employment in an area related to the felony behavior.

So, a child molester could work in accounting; a murderer could work in Legislative Services. How quaint. Do we not pay enough taxes in this city to get the best employees our money can buy? Not the lowest? According to Community Services, the alders and DeStefano - of course not. This is pathetic.

Posted by: Web Surfer | December 15, 2008 10:32 PM

Who cares whether they check a box or not - it's easy to check the CT Judicial website and see if anyone has been charged or convicted of a crime in CT recently. And it's free. I'm in the process of hiring someone now and I plan to use that website.

Posted by: Hood Rebel | December 16, 2008 12:07 AM


Let's keep it real!

Strahilevitz's "hopeful hypothesis which is that the widespread availability of personal history and reputation information will reduce individuals' reliance on easily observable proxies like race, gender, and age, in deciding with whom to socialize or do business." is nothing but hopeful hypothesis or better yet it's wishful thinking--especially when it comes to African Americans.

This study confirms the suspicions of many --including prominent--African Americans.

Posted by: ned | December 16, 2008 8:37 AM

Walt, next you'll be saying something silly like: "don't commit a felony" or, "if you want a funny money loan, become a New Haven Alder", or "if you want to get into Harvard, shoot someone in the head", or "if you want to become Fire Commissioner, steal money and call yourself a reverend [comes with a 'no tow' tag]". Sheesh.

Posted by: Sarah28 | December 16, 2008 9:57 AM

Hood Rebel

Fix that link please! It's bouncing.

Posted by: 2nd Chance | December 16, 2008 10:39 AM

Hmmmm . . . 18 to 23 year-old gets arrested for possession of a small amount of controlled substance and gets a felony conviction. Felony conviction changes kid's life forever, including bars to federal student aid (not that there is any right now, anyway) and bars to employment arising from overly cautious employers not wanting to "risk" hiring the kid. If he or she is african american or hispanic, the barriers to success are amplified. Granted, non-violent drug offenses are not petty crimes, but at the same time they are not crimes warranting a life-long struggle to gain meaningful employment. Our country and legal system were founded on christian beliefs - that individuals are human, prone to mistakes, and capable of repaying debts to society in most instances - but somewhere along the way jutsice has been corrupted in a way that exerts extreme and long-lasting punishment on kids that, but for a youthful mistake, would make as good or better public or private employees than their non-convicted counterparts. The 2nd Chance Act signed into law by Pres. Bush received widespread bipartisan support, but even the Act stopped short of humane treatment for youthful non-violent offfenders, in particular. Banning the box is a step in the right direction, but while the issue continues to mature, lives are continuing to be devastated, oftemtimes with trageically avoidable consequences, including entirely avoidable recidivism rates. A person may live 4 to 6 weeks without food, maybe as long as a week without water, but perhaps not more than a second without hope. Our youthful non-violent offenders deserve to have hoope that they can course correct and be successful despite having once been a knucklehead. Make a stand for what is right and just.

Posted by: Streever | December 16, 2008 11:16 AM

Hood Rebel,

I'm not sure what you mean.

I have read some of Harry Holzer's work, which seems to imply the opposite--that people do make a link to african-americans and crime in the absence of actual facts.

Because of this, the Professor suggests asking the question more, to reduce the effect that bias has.

An academic is not going to necessarily solve our social ills, nor do I think that is where we should be looking: Rather to activists like Kica Matos & others working directly on these issues.

However, with that being said, academic research & history can prevent us from making mistakes which don't appear obvious at first.

I am suggesting that all involved look into this research & then evaluate the possible outcomes of ban the box.

Have we seen the effect in other cities?

Has it resulted in more felons being hired? How are the numbers on minority hiring in those cities?

I'm not trying to be unreal! I'm simply proposing that we evaluate all current data. We have a lot of data on this, & there is no need to be hasty. It's not a very exciting political platform, but caution & analysis have taken us a long way in human history.


there is the link
there was simply a period at the end.

Posted by: Streever | December 16, 2008 3:11 PM

Hood Rebel,

Sorry, just re-read what you wrote & I think I better understand what you are trying to say.

That is actually a point made in the 12 page paper: That african-americans are viewed in a negative light, and that having a "box" on the application which states they are not ex-felons improves their chances of being hired, because typically employers make the assumption that they ARE ex-convicts.

That is from Holzer's research, which you can see at the end of the paper: it's a free download from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1003001

Please read it & see what you think: I think it's easy to miss the point without reading the whole paper, & looking at Holzer's research as well.

The professor is not disagreeing with anything in the article you posted: rather, he's questioning if there isn't a better way to obtain employment for ex-convicts then removing the box, which he states decreases the chance of any african-american to obtain a job.

I think it's important that we always consider possible negative, unintentional, consequences of our choices & this is one time where we can, because there is a wealth of research on this.


Posted by: Walt | December 16, 2008 4:48 PM


Good point which I had never read before.

Does anyone think Kimbro would have been hired by Hill Health if he were not already well known in the City as a felon and murderer?

Does anyone think that if Kimbro were white and had his felony record, he would have been hired in New Haven by Hill Health or any other entity?

Glad he was able to redeem himself but he could not have succeeded without Black special treatment.


Are you trying to put untrue ridiculous quotes under my name just because I correctly pointed out your anti-religious bigotry on another thread, or do you have another reason?

Posted by: Hood Rebel | December 16, 2008 6:24 PM

Again, keeping it real:
People of color are over represented in the criminal justice system for all kinds of reasons. I tried to point out some research in the article I posted.http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080207163811.htm
A the "check the box policy" could lead to excluding people with convictions from being hired which could have an unequal impact on people of color. That's real!

It seems to me that what the city is trying to do is get an understanding of the NATURE of the offense rather than simply and possibly automatically cutting someone one out of the hiring process just based on their conviction history.

"Check the box" could unwittingly or purposely lead to an across the board policy to exclude the hiring of people with criminal records.

Ex-convicts like Martha Stewart and Governor John Rowland would NOT have jobs today with that type of practice.

Posted by: Alan Felder | December 17, 2008 12:02 AM

Next we need to get rid of the I.D. card for illegal immigrant and then ex-offenders will have a chance.

Posted by: Streever | December 17, 2008 11:49 AM

Hood Rebel,

I understand your point, & agree with it, on the issue of convictions & the disproportionate number of people of color incarcerated. That is real! I do not & have never denied that. It's very real!

The only thing I am asking is if we shouldn't consider the research--especially considering that this Professor is finishing up a lecturing post at Yale--and attempt to engage him in the process.

I also think that we should speak to the cities that have established this bill, & ascertain if it's lead to improvements there. Because we have so much valid data on hiring, especially in minority issues, I think it would be remiss of us to push forward without considering that data.

Posted by: Hood Rebel | December 17, 2008 1:10 PM

I couldn't find the full paper you referenced, I just read the excerpts on a couple different sites. Perhaps you could post.

However, I still err on the side history, science and personal experience; and therefore do not trust the triviality of human nature when it comes to discrimination in the absence of clear and specific legislation..

Just read some of the comments posted here..scary!

Posted by: Anonymous | December 18, 2008 10:17 AM

How about immediately institute a residence clause for ALL City Jobs. Bet that would solve a lot of our (New-Haveners) problems. In other towns such as Brandford, North Haven, Guilford, etc you could never find the amount of city held jobs by non-residence. That's why we are not hearing about their budget deficit. And more community based policimg & less suspendeding of young black and hispanic males from Mew Haven schools would help any box!

Posted by: Streever | December 18, 2008 5:47 PM

Hood Rebel,

I definitely understand that--and I agree, we can't really trust it!

I just think that if banning the box has been shown to decrease an african-american's chance of being hired--across the board, regardless of criminal background--we must not implement it.


This report here shows a great deal of data on the subject: I think it's worth considering & reviewing. It states that african-americans are assumed to be convicts when they attempt to obtain employment, and as such, Holzer & others state that when you remove that box, you also remove their chance to clear their name, & you remove their ability to find a job.

It makes me think the consequence of ban the box are too great, & we must provide some other way to hire people who are re-entering society. While this is a noble goal, we can't damage another population with a measure which may not do any positive good.

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