Delaware considers banning the box

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(File/NewsWorks)

(File/NewsWorks)

Delaware is considering a statewide “ban the box” bill that would remove the criminal history check-off box from state, county and city jobs, among other public agencies.

“We need to start by looking at employment discrimination against people who have repaid their debt to society,” Gov. Jack Markell, D-Del, said during his State of the State address last month.

With support from Markell, House Bill 167 appears to be on the fast track to passage making Delaware the first state in our region to do so.

In a 31-8 vote, New Castle Representative J.J. Johnson’s bill overwhelmingly cleared the House and is now under consideration in the Senate. While the measure would eliminate the criminal history box from applications for jobs in the public sector, agencies like the Department of Correction and the courts would be exempt.

“If this legislation will do as intended, [it] will give ex-offenders an opportunity to get back to be a part of society, to make a living,” said Rep. Johnson, D-New Castle.

Grandville Brown knows the importance of opportunity firsthand. After 11 years behind bars for dealing crack, Brown says life on the outside was overwhelming at times. “I got hit with a reality check on how hard it is for someone who has a criminal background to try to obtain some employment.”

But Brown considers himself lucky. The nonprofit Connections, which provides housing and outpatient mental health and substance-abuse treatment in Wilmington, hired him full time.

“When I had the interview process…that’s when Connections took a chance on me,” Brown said.

Rep. Johnson says prohibiting employers from asking about criminal records on job applications would make the hiring process fairer. An applicant’s background would be fair game after the first interview, but the idea is to make sure they get a chance to have that interview.

Johnson also believes banning the box will decrease recidivism in the state. According to a report released last summer, by the end of three years, more than 65 percent of prisoners released in Delaware in 2008 and 2009 were back behind bars.

Opponents of HB 167 worry it will lead to more lawsuits and hinder communication between employers and potential employees.

If the bill passes, Delaware would be the eleventh state with ban the box legislation on its books.

First explores what Rep. Johnson describes as a ‘foot-in-the-door’ bill tonight on WHYY-TV at 5:30 p.m. and again at 11 p.m. 

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