Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Proposal to "ban the box" passed by Travis Commissioners

Today the Travis County Commissioners Court officially approved a proposal to eliminate questions about past criminal history on initial employment screenings, reports the Austin Statesman ("County takes crime question off job applications," April 22):

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.

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.

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.


Stephen said...

The big problem is that an employer can be sued over hiring someone with a criminal history. I've got a case right now, the guy had an assault ten years ago, the Plaintiff's attorney is seeking punitive damages because someone hired him to drive a truck.

Anonymous said...

Recidivism can only be conquered by countering the de facto hiring discrimination practiced by many employers. Citizens who've served their sentences and paid in full their 'dues' to society ought not to be punished for the remainder of their lives. Yet this is the case for all too many. Equal rights for equal citizens, anything less is an injustice.

Stephen Eaton
Vice Chair, All of Us or None - Texas Chapter

Anonymous said...

Cudos to Stephen Eaton! After a sentence is served, then that should not intefer with a person's life and ability to make a new life. They have paid for what they were convicted of and deserve a chance to get a job and be able to support a family, in other words a life. Recidivism can be conquered by enabling a person who has paid the price, remove this from their record and let them live a real life without fear of being returned to the hell hole of TDCJ!!

Whoever decided this record should never be removed and everyone should be asked if they have a felony on their record should have to stay in "time out" for a number of years. This is cruel and inhumane treatment of people who have changed and deserve the opportunity to begin to live a normal life again without the fear of being turned down for a job to support their family and find happiness.