Activists Seek to Expand “Ban the Box” Ex-Prisoner Employment Reform in Georgia
Photograph by Gloria Tatum
(APN) DECATUR — On Monday, June 02, 2014, activists held an informational meeting at the North Decatur Presbyterian Church regarding so-called “Ban the Box” policies that prohibit certain employers from questioning job applicants about their arrest and conviction records.
The purpose of the policy is so that people can be judged on their qualifications, skills, and education, rather than past mistakes and bad choices.
The City of Atlanta and DeKalb County have already banned the box for government jobs, and Gov. Nathan Deal has pledged to ban the box from state applications, except for high security jobs like state parole. The City of Atlanta announced their policy in March 2013.
Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner (District 6) told the packed church she would introduce a resolution to ban the box in Fulton County.
Most employment applications include a check box that asks the question, “Have you ever been arrested and/or convicted of a felony?”
Many reformed citizens have not been arrested in five, ten, or fifteen years, but cannot obtain employment because they are often automatically screened out by checking the box. “Ban the Box” policies remove the question from job applications.
If employers must ask the question, it should be later in the hiring process and consider the age of the offence and its relevance to the job.
Officials from Clayton, DeKalb, and Fulton Counties and the Governor’s Office of Transition listened to reformed citizens tell about barriers people with convictions face when trying to get jobs.
“I’m formerly incarcerated, so I know first hand from experience what it’s like to not be able to care for myself and my family. I’ve had eighteen jobs and I lied to get every one of those jobs. Several of those jobs I worked on for over a year, but once I was put up for promotion and they reevaluated my background on my application, I was fired for falsifying information,” Marilynn Winn with 9to5 Atlanta Working Women said.
“I lied to get a job, I did not lie about anything else except to get a job, so why should I not work?” Winn said.
While in college, Roland Carlisle was convicted for possession of cannabis [marijuana] and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. He has encountered barriers getting a job in his field of accounting. In Georgia, one ounce of marijuana is enough to constitute a felony.
“It has affected every aspect of my life, especially employment. As soon as they learn you are a convicted felon, they disregard your application… employers still blanket discriminate because you have a criminal record and don’t consider any of the factors that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tells them to consider,” Carlisle told Atlanta Progressive News.
Anthony Dillard grew up in a foster home from hell. At age seventeen, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for three months of bad choices. After his release, for the next two years, he checked yes on the felon box and never got a job.
“So I started lying and I got jobs, but once they checked further, I was let go,” Dillard said.
In this age of mass incarceration, one in every thirteen Georgians is either on probation, parole, or has been incarcerated. It affects everybody and every community. The cost to taxpayers to house an inmate is 21,043 thousand a year.
Georgia ranks third worst among all U.S. states for the number of barriers to successful reentry. Barriers exist for employment, housing, education, voting, and benefits, which makes it difficult for individuals and families to recover from past mistakes.
“One of the key elements of re-entry is employment. If you have affordable housing and sustainable employment, you do not get recidivism,” Bob Keller, Deputy Director with the Governor’s office, said.
Twelve states have embraced statewide ban the box policies, reducing barriers to employment for people with criminal records. They are: California (2013) applies to public employment, Colorado (2012) applies to state employment and licensing, Connecticut (2010) applies to state employment, Delaware (2014) applies to public employment, Hawaii (1998) applies to public and private employment, Illinois (2013) applies to state employment, Maryland (2013) applies to state employment, Massachusetts (2010) applies to public and private employment, Minnesota (2009) applies to public and private employment, Nebraska (2014) applies to public employment, New Mexico (2010) applies to public employment, and Rhode Island (2013) applies to public and private employment.
National recidivism rates are close to seventy percent. In states that have ‘banned the box’, the recidivism rate drops to around forty percent.
A dozen other states are considering policy change or have pending legislation to remove barriers to employment for citizens released from prison.
“People invest in recycling cans, paper, and plastic… the ban the box campaign is about recycling lives. Giving people the chance to be reintegrated back into the job market and society and look people in the eye and say, I paid my debt,” Dillard said.