Tuesday, August 5, 2014

City could stop asking some job applicants for criminal history

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 11:12 AM

Spokane could make it easier for those with criminal records to get hired in city jobs. Mayor David Condon announced Monday that he’s asked the city’s Civil Service Commission to change the city’s job application and remove the box asking whether the applicant has a criminal history.

Condon says he’s also asked the city’s human resources department to wait until later in the application process to run background checks.

“Criminal background information requests would be delayed until after the city has determined the applicant meets minimum qualifications, providing applicants with arrest and conviction records an equal opportunity to compete for employment with the city,” Condon said at a press conference Monday.

The changes, which must now be approved by the Civil Service Commission, will not apply to jobs in law enforcement or that are required by state or federal law to use background checks, Condon says.

Local advocates, including Center for Justice Executive Director Rick Eichstaedt and Spokane NAACP President James Wilburn, praised Condon for the change. The nationwide Ban the Box campaign has encouraged cities to take similar steps.

Wilburn called it a “major step forward” that “hopefully catches on with our local businesses.”

“We have gentlemen who are being released from our criminal justice system back into society and in the past it’s been a very hopeless situation for many families who really are looking to get back together because those who are being released have this blockage in the way to keep them from getting back into the community and be productive,” Wilburn said.

The Inlander wrote in 2010 about the way felony convictions can brand people for years, making it harder for them to find jobs and reintegrate into society.

From that story:

From 1970 to 2000, the United States’ rate of incarceration jumped by more than 500 percent. Today 2.3 million people live behind bars, and an estimated 13 million Americans have felony convictions on their records.

While half are violent offenders, half are like Carol — people with drug offenses or property crimes. And long after their sentences are served, debts paid, rehabilitation completed and lessons learned, they’re still branded as felons.

Felons are, perhaps, the last group that can be legally discriminated against: A felony can automatically disqualify someone from a job, from getting a safe place to live, from being eligible to vote. Many felons end up living in poor neighborhoods and raising children in crime-riddled areas — where their children get caught up in the same traps.

Elliott Bronstein, who works with the City of Seattle Office for Civil Rights, says reformed felons like Carol who regret their crimes and want to change can’t. And that’s something everyone should care about, if for no other reason than money: Housing a person in prison for a year costs more than $25,000.

Read more here.

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About The Author

Heidi Groover

Heidi Groover is a staff writer at the Inlander, where she covers city government and drug policy. On the job, she's spent time with prostitutes, "street kids," marriage equality advocates and the family of a 16-year-old organ donor...