Criminal history question banned on Miami-Dade County job applications

There’s relief for South Florida residents with criminal history searching for public jobs in Miami-Dade. On Tuesday, the county commission voted 8-4 to remove the question that asks for previous criminal convictions from county government application forms. The question, however, will remain for those applying in law enforcement, fire-rescue, and corrections.

Miami employee consultant Christie Billings, an ardent advocate on this issue, hailed the decision.

“Hundreds, if not thousands, of otherwise qualified individuals have been denied jobs because of answering yes to having prior convictions. No matter if this conviction was for a petty crime like shop-lifting, or possession of small quantities of weed, this is usually a job application killer,” Billings said. “It’s only fair every applicant has the same chance to at least advance to the job interview. There, the applicant can be assessed on his or her experience and qualification, and adequately explain any criminal history, rather than being purged from the hiring process from the outset.”

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The removal, however, doesn’t mean county job applicants no longer have to undergo criminal background checks. But such checks, like drug tests, will only be conducted when the applicant becomes a finalist.

County Commission Chairman Jean Monestime, a prime initiator for the change, said the decision “give people a chance to make an honest living instead of perpetuating the inequalities in the justice system. If someone has proven their ability to benefit their community, we owe it to them to give them…a second chance, and not unfairly exclude them before we find out about their qualifications.”

Billings said she has no problem with criminal background checks as the “last hurdle,” but believe applicants should be made aware of this when they apply.

Billings is part of a national movement called “Ban the Box,” which seeks to remove arrest check boxes on job applications. So far, Florida has not “banned the box,” although the cities of Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville have.

“Plans are being pursued to take this issue to the state Legislature,” Billings said. “We have to give people a fair chance.”

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