I think this is a great idea, not just because of the qualified applicants who might otherwise be overlooked by the county, but because it's a case of local government setting an example for the state and the private sector, who I hope will follow suit. Personally I wouldn't mind seeing the county make some version of "banning the box" a requirement for firms that receive county contracts, at least on those jobs.
That question will be asked later in the application process for jobs unsuitable for people with a criminal past — such as handling county funds or records — in what the commissioners and some public safety officials said was a step to help make Travis County safer.
Employment is often cited as a key factor in keeping people who have been convicted of a crime from committing another. District Attorney Ronnie Earle was among those who said the change would improve public safety.
County Judge Sam Biscoe, the chairman of the Commissioners Court and chief architect of the change, said some county managers were disqualifying applicants based on checking the criminal-background box before checking other qualifications or whether the criminal background was even relevant to the job. Biscoe said the change is intended both to broaden the pool of potential employees and ensure the ex-convicts don't wind up back in the criminal justice system, using up resources and not contributing.
The change is the first of what Biscoe envisions as a number of steps to ensure ex-convicts can find work. Commissioners said managers can still take criminal backgrounds into account for jobs in which a background check would be conducted. The change is "partly selfish, and it's partly smart," Biscoe said.
"Banning the box" has been done in the past couple years in large cities such as San Francisco and Chicago.
See earlier Grits coverage of this proposal, which was discussed at the jail solutions symposium in Bexar County this spring. Kudos to Judge Biscoe for spearheading it.