Criminal records and the box: Wilmington tries a different approach

    Wilmington’s new “Ban the Box” plan has some holes in it. For instance the city will no longer do a criminal background check on applicants before a conditional job offer is made for non-uniform jobs. 

    Mayor Baker says the city will conduct such a check only on applicants after a conditional job offer is made for a non-uniformed position. An Executive Order signed by Mayor Baker deletes any questions about criminal convictions from city job applications not related to public safety.

    So what’s to stop the city from refusing to hire a person if a criminal background is still found? Nothing, that’s what! And what about this question, if you “Ban the Box” for city jobs, why not do the same for the private sector where there are many more jobs available?

    So, if you don’t check “The Box” of a private employer, and your criminal background is discovered, you will be marked, not only as an ex-offender, but a lying ex-offender.

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    Just one more ex-offender headed back to jail for resuming his or her criminal activities. So much for concerns about “recidivism” problems.

    The “Ban the Box” reference, deals with the square employers have on application forms that are required to check signifying a criminal record. The “Ban the Box” system, missing in the private sector means more jobs lost and that means more unemployment.

    That is something the president works on every day. And he could use some help.   

    City Councilman Justen Wright, who won unanimous support in City Council for this idea, needs to go back and try it again. He says he hopes other municipalities and businesses will follow suit.

    Well Councilman Wright, you are in the right place to make it happen. You have my vote. It seems to me, this “Ban the Box” bill (with unanimous city council support) has the city making promises of helping ex-offender become law abiding, tax payers again, that will be hard to deliver.

    Meanwhile, media reports remind us that the criminal background check problem is already being addressed, because the EEOC (The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) protects against automatic denial of employment. And what about different measures in other states that could create administrative burdens for National Employers?

    Closer to home, I spoke with Dwight Davis about this. He is the Executive Director of Wilmington’s Pardon Petition Assistance Program. He has been there for 15 years. He says the “Ban the Box” plan falls way short of addressing ex-offender problems.

    He says what would adequately address the first state’s ex-offender problem is reform of the Delaware Justice Information System (Deljis). For instance, eliminate records of criminal offenses where an individual was found not guilty, charges are dropped “Nolle Prossequi” (refusal to prosecute). Davis points out that the EEOC has issued a ruling that any criminal offense over five years old should have a very limited effect on determining a person’s suitability to be employed. He says the sole criteria, for automatic denial of employment, are the only acceptable decision. For instance, a bank has the right to refuse employment to an ex-offender bank robber.

    City Councilman Wright has put the city on the right path, but I think they have a long way to go to the finish line.

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