Philadelphia Takes A Stand, Bans Criminal History Question From Employment Forms

April 27, 2011  |  

By Charing Ball

My hometown made me proud this week. No, we didn’t win a major sports championship (yet), but my city took a step in removing a barrier that has long been a factor in ex-offender rehabilitation.

Last week, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed into law a new “ban the box” ordinance, which will remove the box on employment applications that asks whether a candidate has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime. The measure, which applies to city agencies and private employers of 10 or more people, also bans employers from asking about criminal records before a first interview.

Of course there are some catch-22s that prohibit the law from being perfect: first, employers who are required to conduct background checks due to industry regulations or the nature of their business will be exempt from this new law; secondly, the ordinance will allow for employers to run criminal background checks after the first interview has taken place.

Essentially, this law is a good place to start since people with criminal records face widespread employment discrimination. Studies have shown ex-offenders stand a much better chance of getting hired for a job if they reached the stage in the interview process where they can explain their past criminal records.

In Philadelphia alone, an astonishing 300,000 residents have criminal records, many of which have long been out of the judicial system, including on probation or parole, and yet still can’t seem to find work.  Nationally, Sixty-five million – or one in five adults – have a criminal record on file with the states and their numbers are growing.  Thousands of people with conviction records will return to society to live, work and hopefully, be productive members of society. Still, in most places around the country, folks, whose only chance at rehabilitation is through employment, are met with ‘Felons Need Not Apply” signs.

Over the years, employers using criminal background checks to weed out applicants have risen with as many as 80 percent of large employers in the U.S. now screening job applicants and current employees for criminal records. Likewise, a survey found that over 60 percent of employers would “probably not” or “definitely not” be willing to hire an individual with a criminal record.

Advocates for ex-offenders have long cited the direct link connecting those statistics with the recidivism rate of ex-offenders, which stands at 65 percent.  As such, these advocates have been pushing both city and state municipalities to recognize the need to “Ban the Box.”  So far, four states throughout the U.S. have enacted Ban the Box legislation, including New Mexico, Connecticut, Hawaii and Minnesota.  Three states with the new laws reportedly have achieved lower rates in recidivism than the national average.

With the national unemployment rate still hovering around nine percent, sympathy for unemployed ex-offenders isn’t going to be a popular sentiment. However, simply turning our backs on the most fragile members of our community can only have disastrous effects on everyone’s quality of life.  People with jobs are significantly less likely to be re-arrested or commit crimes. They are also more likely to pay taxes and less likely to be on public assistance.  Without removing the barriers that make it harder for ex-offenders to find work, many will have no choice but to go out into the streets and make work.

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  • Smh

    This is absurd! Suppose an ex offender is applying for a position at a day care center but he/she was just released from prison for endangerment of a child? Wtf are they going to do if that offender strikes again???? This is going to create more chaos than they’re prepared for. Good effing luck!

  • i'm in awe of that "most fragile members of society" mess…really? not the old people, children, women, victims? the thugs/criminals are the MOST fragile members of society? how about not getting a record? lots of people manage to NOT have one. i think that everyone should be able to find legal good work, but they really need to stop doing illegal stuff to get a record in the first place. no one ever wants to think about that. what about the people that they committed crimes against? not every crime is a violent offense with a victim, i get that, but many ARE and everyone is so quick to whine about their hard lives that led to it. i'm sure the victim had a hard life too that wasn't made any easier by whatever creep jacked it up enough to get put in jail over it

    everyone is looking for work, in this economy employers have the right to be picky. i don't think it's fair to pretty much force them to hire cons. you can't manage your own life situation, why do I want to have you as an employee? you couldn't be bothered to have your life situation in order and I just wouldn't want the risk that you may bring. Again, not EVERY criminal has a violent crime under their belt and some were unfairly convicted, but I still wouldn't want to risk whatever drama they may bring.

  • nursedred

    I don’t get why people are complaining about them taking that question off the application. If the applicant makes it to the interview stage and the person who is about to hire you wants to know if you’re a felon there’s nothing stopping them from running a background check and finding out on their own. They just can’t ask you about it and eliminate you before hand. Seems fair

  • Ms. Hunter

    Mrs. Rance is very smart love her comments. Not sure what happened to Nymphis loved laughing daily at work.

  • The Mrs.

    I work as a recruiter and have to run backgrounds on all applicants we’re interested in interviewing. Personally, I don’t want to work around convicted felons because what’s on your record shows a lot about you and what you’re capable of but I understand that people deserve a second chance. Our policy doesn’t prevent ALL felons from working but if you have things like a murder convition you’re automatically disqualified. Other posititions require that a certain amount of years must go by from the time of the conviction in order to be considered. The best advice I can give for people with a record is if you do have to answer the conviction question, answer it truthfully because it doesn’t always mean you won’t get hired. It depends on the offence and how long it’s been. If you lie on the application and they find out, you’re automatically disqualified because it shows you’re not truthful. Be honest and you may still get the job.

  • Felixxx

    To me it depends on the time and the crime. I also want to see employers not discriminate against those looking for jobs trying to lead a better life. As long as the crime has nothing to do with where someone is trying to work then I feel this is a good government plan – example: stealing clothes and trying to work at Forever 21 is not gonna happen but maybe you can try at the food court.

  • iguess

    Well I think this is a great idea. The legislation isn't insisting that the criminal record is banned period; BUT that employers won't be able to ask about the criminal record until AFTER the first interview. It gives that person a chance t compete. If I passed the skills test with flying colors; interviewed successfully, answered all situational questions outstanding; awesome references; strong educational background; that employer is going to put that disorderly conduct from 5 years ago into perspective.

    • Hope KY Does This

      I'm all with you. I have a felony that is about 7 years old. Since then, I have gotten married, had a son (we're still married with the kid after 4 years), I have completed an Associates Degree and am 3 months from a second one…I have applied at 26 jobs, all of which I am more than capable of doing, and have gotten 4 "declined" letters and nothing from the other 22 yet.

  • Northern Cali Honey

    Finally, they'll have a chance to get somewhere…can't get no where if you don't give em a chance. All states should consider this law. Maybe they'll turn their lives around if they can get real work.

  • Mrs. Rance

    That is wonderful! I have seen that question jam many people up. If you answer yet, you are eliminated from consideration. If you say no and get the job they fire you for lying on your application. I wish more states would do this. Hell I wish it was outlawed federally.

  • if anything be noble

    That’s because the government wants its child support. The system slapped all these felonies on these brothers that make it now impossible for them to get a job and pay child support but now the system is tired of paying for all these kids and they want their money. It wasn’t Kindness that drove them to do this. Non-working felons are just too expensive to society and politicians are learning they can’t have it both ways– you can’t round up and imprison Black men all willy nilly AND have them be productive members of society. Pick one.



  • if anything be noble

    That’s because the government wants its child support. The system slapped all these felonies on these brothers that make it now impossible for them to get a job and pay child support and the System is tired of paying for all these kids and they want their money. It wasn’t Kindness that drove them to do this. Non-working felons are just too expensive to society and politicians are learning they can’t have it both ways– you can’t round up and imprison Black men all willy nilly AND have them be productive members of society. Pick one.

  • I understand that recidivism is a problem that affects all of us and that "ban the box" legislation can help level the playing field. But the inference that criminal background checks should be taken off the table is preposterous. Employers have a right to know everything they can (within the confines of the law) in order to make an informed decision. They also have an obligation to mitigate risk to their business, their employees and their customers. You characterize ex-cons as the most fragile members of society. How about the victims of their crimes?

    • Mrs. Rance

      I agree 100%. Doe the check. Know what you need to know about your employees. I'm just happy they get a chance to have an interview and explain their situation. In my state an ex-con can't even get a part time minimum wage job at a grocery store. That's crazy.

    • Judy

      This law does not take criminal background checks off the table. It merely takes allows a paroled person to make out an application and get to the interview process before the question is asked about any felonies. That way, a the person can at least try to explain his or her particular situation. The employer is still going to do a background check, but maybe because the paroled person was able to explain the situation, he or she could get hired. If the box to be checked is on the application, the person has no hope of ever being called in for an interview and therefore has no hope of getting a job.

  • This should be done for ex-felons to have a fair competition when applying for a job because ex-felons are mostly discriminated and judged even before they reach the interview period.

  • keep it 100

    if you can't join them, beat them….do fo self.