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“Ban the Box” Gets Thumbs Up

by Melinda Tuhus | Feb 4, 2009 3:22 am

(10) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: City Hall

black%20guy.JPGDerike Anderson (pictured) came to City Hall to support a proposal to “ban the box” — the space on job applications asking if one is a convicted felon. The aldermanic Human Services Committee supported it, too, and sent it for consideration by the full board.

Anderson was one of almost two dozen people who testified Tuesday night in favor of the proposal presented by Community Services Administrator Kica Matos. It would require all city departments and private companies doing business with the city to remove the box from job applications, unless they get a waiver. The point of the proposal is to help level the playing field for ex-offenders. Click here for background on the proposal.

The committee’s vote was unanimous.

Matos said the proposal would move the criminal background check from the very beginning of the interview process to the end, “once the city has determined that the person is otherwise qualified for the job and a conditional offer of employment has been made…. If a criminal history check comes back positive, the Human Services office must determine whether or not the conviction is job-related.” The process would allow an applicant to present a rebuttal if the offer of employment is withdrawn.

Matos reported that in the year beginning July 2007, 1,800 inmates were released to New Haven. Getting a job can make the difference between whether they become productive, law-abiding citizens or commit new crimes and return return to prison, she said. The “box” has a disproportionate impact on African-Americans and Latinos, because they are imprisoned at a higher rate than whites.

IMG_1960.JPGDeborah Marcuse (pictured on the right, with Matos on the left) is working on a broader prison re-entry plan with the city as a Liman fellow. She testified at Tuesday night’s hearing that passing this ordinance would essentially put New Haven in conformity with federal anti-discrimination laws.

One person after another testified that having to confront the box creates a sense of hopelessness for ex-offenders. “I can’t even tell you how I feel just to even look at that box on an application,” said Derike Anderson. “It’s almost like all hope is lost, because I gotta answer that question … I feel if that question wasn’t there, I’d have half a chance, just to get myself in the door and into an interview, I think I can sell myself very well.”

white%20guy.JPGJoseph Burgeson (pictured) said he is a lifelong New Haven resident who has been in and out of prison.

“Every time I fill out an application, and I see that question, it’s very discouraging. Prison is a bad experience; prison beats you up. When a guy, or a woman, goes to prison, they’re just gone, as far as society is concerned.”

He said he wants to work, but with a criminal record, “Our debt is never paid.” He said he agrees that the “box” discriminates more against racial minorities. “But I’m a minority in being an ex-offender, and if they’re going to use that to disqualify me [from employment], it doesn’t matter what my race is.”

Criminal justice advocate Barbara Fair said she had personal experience with “the box.” She said she had been falsely arrested a decade ago and charged with a felony. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, but was able to get a pardon. Still, she said the information about her record had likely gone out beyond the control of the parole board. Perhaps that explained why, with a long work history and a master’s degree in social work, she still found it very hard to get hired in a new job, she suggesed. She added that it “stings” when individuals with connections or status are convicted of crimes but get off with no prison time, while poor and minority youth go to prison at disproportionate rates, setting them on a lifelong path of disappointment and rejection – and often sending them back to a life of crime.

barb%20fair%20ban%20box.JPG“This is a first step,” said Fair (pictured), “in hopefully changing the outlook for kids and giving our youth some hope that because I messed up once, I’m not going to be stained for the rest of my life.”

She closed with another personal story. “I have three sons who have been involved in drug dealing in the past. They applied for city employment that allows you to hire ex-offenders. They all have jobs — one of them is working two jobs — and never, ever went back to the street. They didn’t have to, because they had a job that could take care of their families.”

Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield asked if passage of the ordinance could open the city to lawsuits filed by disgruntled applicants who go through the “back and forth” process regarding their criminal backgrounds and have a job offer withdrawn. Matos said city officials had spoken to officials in Boston, which has a similar ordinance applying to both the city and private vendors who supply goods or services to the city. “Boston has had no complaints or lawsuits,” she said.

Marcuse added that the National Employment Law Project reports there has been no litigation stemming from any of the several cities that have instituted their own similar ordinances.

The full board is scheduled to take the proposal up on March 2.

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Comments

posted by: City Hall Watch on February 4, 2009  7:36am

Do we not pay enough taxes in New Haven to expect the city will hire the best possible people? Are you telling me the best possible people for what should be a shrinking work force at City Hall, are the serial abusers, rapists, drug dealers and others with nefarious backgrounds? Why bring race into this discussion?

At a time when we have a black man heading the
GOP, a black man as President, a black man as Attorney General to name but a few, it is disgraceful that Kica and others who push these marginal city policies always inject race into these decisions as if that has any basis whatsoever in the decision. If this is what drives Community Services, perhaps it’s time to get off the public payroll and back into a race based advocacy business.

It’s tough finding a job when you’re a felon. I understand that. It’s also the price you pay for being anti-social, not following the rules and abusing the public through the choices you make.

posted by: downtown on February 4, 2009  11:04am

Couldn’t disagree more, CHW. We have a rehabilitation system in the country, and we should believe in its ability. All this rule does is move the background check and the ‘box’ to the end of the application, rather than the beginning. It’s a commitment by the city to ex-offenders stating that the city believes in the power of rehabilitation.

“Matos said the proposal would move the criminal background check from the very beginning of the interview process to the end, “once the city has determined that the person is otherwise qualified for the job and a conditional offer of employment has been made…. If a criminal history check comes back positive, the Human Services office must determine whether or not the conviction is job-related.” The process would allow an applicant to present a rebuttal if the offer of employment is withdrawn.”

Also, how is race being injected? It appears as though this policy is not about race, but about criminal record. Unless you are saying that all criminals are of a specific race? I don’t know what you’re saying, to be honest. It does sound, however, that you could use some research and reading into the subject matter.

posted by: City Hall Watch on February 4, 2009  11:37am

I believe in the rehabilitation of offenders and ex-offenders. No problem there. We invest a lot of money in rehab. This policy doesn’t simply move the box to the back of the hiring process, it says the city will only look at the box and do a background check after the potential employee is given a “conditional letter of employment.” That’s a big change and it opens us up to lawsuits if we don’t follow it to the letter.

You say we need to demonstrate compassion or understanding to ex-cons. Why? How about having the ex-cons demonstrate they have a committment to the city? How about we make it our policy to listen first, judge second as a general policy of the city? Doesn’t that accomplish the same thing?

As far as the race issue, perhaps you overlooked this section of the story:

Kica Matos: The “box” has a disproportionate impact on African-Americans and Latinos, because they are imprisoned at a higher rate than whites.

This is the third major policy of the City of New Haven that is based in whole or in part on race.

posted by: Are you nuts on February 4, 2009  12:24pm

City Hall Watcher,

The point of the Ordinance is that the city will make a conditional offer to the person who is most qualified.  Only then will it look at his/her criminal background and if it finds something relevant to his/her employment then it will not employ the person.

How is that not hiring the most qualified person?  Yelling lies at the top of your lungs does not make them true.

Given the sheer number of people in New Haven who have a criminal record, it would be stupid of the city to ignore these people.  Making them into taxpaying employed residents makes a lot more sense than hiring someone from the suburbs who does not pay taxes in New Haven.

But it all starts with the reality that the city already wanted to hire the person who was most qualified.  Please don’t make stuff up.

We are talking about vendors who do things like repair plumbing or clean buildings.  We are talking about people who clean parks and pick up trash.  These are exactly the types of opportunities that should be made available to ex-offenders if they are the most qualified.

The idea is that people have paid for their crimes.  When they are out it is not in our community’s interests to shun them and make them pariahs.  Even if you don’t care about anyone else, you should care enough about yourself that you don’t want these people to remain jobless.

posted by: bfair on February 4, 2009  1:12pm

CHW: Maybe you should be protesting the NH police officer who recently was found solicting a prostitute during a NHPD prostitution sting. He is beng given probation that will wipe his record clean and he can stay on the job busting prostitutes and other “nefarious” anti social individual, or maybe you should protest former governor Rowland who was convicted of abusing his government position, spent a few months in a camp and now has another government job or maybe the judge who was recently caught driving drunk who will get “treatment” and have a clean record and return to the bench to send others to prison or maybe the prosecutors in New haven and Milford who were caught stealing from defendant’s fines or maybe you should protest government officials who don’t pay their taxes yet remain in high positions in government to pass legislation to punish those who don’t pay taxes. I could go on and on.These people have also practiced anti social behavior, abused the public and not followed rules. Maybe you can spend sometime talking about them or those who don’t follow the rules and yet never get caught. I doubt there are a whole lot of people out there that can afford to throw stones.Once people have been incarcerated in the cesspools or human warehouses listed as prisons/jails they have paid a heavy price for their wrongdoing and since we don’t have a heaven or hell to send anyone to we might best leave the judging to One who does.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 4, 2009  1:56pm

I wonder if John Rowland check the box when he got his job in waterbury?

posted by: downtown on February 5, 2009  12:00pm

City Hall Watch:
“As far as the race issue, perhaps you overlooked this section of the story:
Kica Matos: The “box” has a disproportionate impact on African-Americans and Latinos, because they are imprisoned at a higher rate than whites. This is the third major policy of the City of New Haven that is based in whole or in part on race. “

I’m not being inflammatory, just ignorant and curious. What are the other two? Would love to debate the merits of these as well.

I would say that this policy is justice and equality for all ex-offenders, which is what was stated by the white ex-offender who spoke as a member of the public (or was he an invited guest?). Minorities (as a function of poverty rather than race I’m guessing) are unable to have their “minor” offenses wiped clean/expunged/probated, as the commenter “BFAIR” lists.

posted by: City Hall Watch on February 5, 2009  12:06pm

I don’t believe in race-based policies. We’ve been doing that for decades and have had some success. We’re beyond the base line now, and it’s time we realized that. Now, it’s being used to build political support for the mayor’s reelection which is what I find particularly distasteful. Ban the box is just more of it.

Before you start firing up your keyboards, understand first what I believe and what I protest. I believe in repentance, redemption and second chances - in that order. None of it happens automatically or is conferred upon you once an offender leaves prison.

Repentance is primarily with God and those you have hurt. Some of it is internal, some eternal, some external.

Redemption begins in prision by doing the time for the crime, by being a model prisoner. The hardest part is getting back on your feet once released. That comes in the form of volunteerism and learning life and job skills that can make the offender a contributing member of society and capable of earning a living. Many times, the reason the person is in jail is because they have no skills and need to support themselves.

Second chances happen when you complete steps one and two, and ironically, it’s completing steps one and two that creates an opening for an employer to hire an ex-offender. I know. I’ve hired them.

When you skip over one and two and go right to second chances - there is a problem getting a job. Ban the box helps people skip necessary steps.

Having said that - review what’s been said about John Rowland. He plead guilty, took the punishment (not a camp either, it was prison), came out, laid low, volunteered, mentored, spoke to groups about his ethical lapses, what he did wrong and continues to do so; he got a second chance with his hometown, using the skills he’s developed over a lifetime of public service.

BFair: I have spoken out about a number of the issues you raised including the governor and in many of these cases, I agree with you. I also agree with Bill Dyson’s work on crack and cocaine sentences. But that doesn’t make opposition to Ban the Box an effort to judge these offenders. I would like to have the offenders go through the process I described above. It will not only help them get a second chance, it will help them not to squander it.

posted by: Deborah Marcuse on February 5, 2009  1:21pm

Just wanted to make the point that it’s in fact the federal government—specifically the EEOC, charged with enforcement of Title VII employment discrimination law—that has injected race into the question of whether and to what extent an employer may use a conviction record as the basis for denying a job to an applicant. Federal law—specifically Title VII of the Civil Rights Act—places very strict limits on hiring policies that have what is called a “disparate impact” on racial minorities. What the law amounts to is this: if your policy of not hiring, say, individuals with a GED, effectively excludes 95% of your African American applicants, you’d better have a really good argument for why a high school diploma is necessary for the job in question.

In practice, African American job applicants—particularly men—are disproportionately likely to have a past conviction. If 2001 incarceration rates persist, one in three black men can expect to be incarcerated during his lifetime, compared to one in six Latino men and one in seventeen white men. Similar disparities are evident in New Haven, where in 2007, 66.7% of individuals returning home from Connecticut state prisons were African American, 22.1% Hispanic, and only 12% white.

Moreover, research shows that race matters when employers discriminate on the basis of a conviction record. A 2003 study, using students with otherwise identical resumes, showed that employers were in fact more likely to hire a white candidate with a felony conviction than a black candidate without a felony conviction. And it was the black candidate with the felony conviction who, despite his qualifications, was the least likely to receive a job offer.

You can find more information about what federal law requires here:

<a href=“http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/race-color.html#VIB2conviction” rel=“nofollow”><a href=“http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/race-color.html#VIB2conviction” rel=“nofollow”><a href=“http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/race-color.html#VIB2conviction” rel=“nofollow”>http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/race-color.html#VIB2conviction</a></a></a>

posted by: bfair on February 6, 2009  1:43pm

CHW: Hopefully by now you have a better understanding of what we are trying to do to assist others in rebuiding their lives following incarceration. Only the best qualified will be considered for a position.I had to take a moment to speak to your defense of Rowland. Maybe we are talking about a different John Rowland. I am speaking of former governor of Conn who when caught in his corruption stepped down ONLY after he faced a certain impeachment. His crimes included accepting free chartered flights around the country,failure to pay taxes on over $107,000 in gifts which included cash, expensive gitfs, unlawful improvements on his lakeside cottage , and trips to Las Vegas, Florida and Vt (and God only know what else). It didn’t end there. While awaiting sentencing he lied to his probation officer about $416,000 (assets)in retirement accounts. The judge sentenced him below the federal guidelines of 15-21 months.He requested what CAMP (not prison) he wanted to spend his 10 MONTHS of “incarceration”. The remaining 4 months were spent on “home confinement). He was MANDATED by the court to do 300 hours of community service (not exactly volunteerism). and months after completing his “sentence” he was offered (as a convicted felon)a govenment job paying $90-120,000 . I am lost at what point all his goodwill took place. He was a man of the priviledged class and so he was treated as such. Most of those whom we are fighting for are low level offenders who pay a much heftier price when Rowland (and his likes pays) and they are not given the chance to get a minimum wage job let alone a $100,000 government job, They just want to be able to be lawabiding productive citizens with the ability to have the basics in life. They are not the Scooter Libbys’ and Dick Cheneys. They are everyday people just trying to survive. I just feel that if we are going to resent anyone getting chances there are so many out here who had options to live within the law and they chose not to.

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