The Miami-Dade County Commission should be commended for its recent vote to remove the question asking persons if they were “ever arrested or convicted” on job applications for County positions. Although the measure applies only to public jobs, excluding law enforcement and fire rescue, it’s a major move for South Florida’s workforce.
Countless individuals have either shielded away from applying for jobs or had their job applications revoked because of this question. Some have taken the calculated risk of answering no to this question despite their criminal record, though employers often discover the truth when they run background checks.
The initiative by the Miami-Dade Commission, led by its Chairman Jean Monestime, is part of the national “Ban-the-Box” movement. Beginning 1998 in Hawaii, the movement has since gained success in over 100 cities and 19 states. In Florida, Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa have already banned the box from job applications. Advocates eventually hope to have the initiative adopted nationwide. In January, “Ban-the-Box” advocates, including the National Employment Law Project (NELP), launched an initiative for President Obama to sign an executive order for a federal “fair chance” hiring policy that includes removing the question.
Despite the movement’s success, there’s still doubt concerning the social value of the ban, particularly from private employers. Among the 19 states adopting the measure, only 5 – Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island – prohibit both private and public employers from including the criminal history question. Several private employers oppose the measure, arguing that retaining the question helps to keep the workplace safe and avoid employment discrimination claims.
However, banning the criminal history box from applications doesn’t mean employers, public or private, should open their workplaces to employees with criminal history. Job applicants with Miami-Dade County must still pass criminal background checks before being hired.
The core objective of removing the criminal conviction question is to give applicants a chance to fairly compete with their peers. By removing the question, applicants now can explain in their own words their story with potential employers at the job interview. Employers should be protected from discrimination lawsuits from applicants, once the application form clearly states “hiring is subject to passing a criminal background check.”
While the ban-the-box movement doesn’t remove the stigma of one’s criminal history, and some convicts will still be wary of applying, the move nonetheless opens doors previously closed to such applicants.
According to the NELP, over 70 million Americans have some form of criminal conviction. Because of the criminal conviction question, most of these people have problems getting jobs, including young men and women who committed minor crimes as teenagers.
In South Florida, several youth experienced this problem because of minor offences committed as students. In recent years, local school districts and law enforcement collaborated on an initiative that prohibits arrests of public school students for minor crimes, placing the students instead in alternative counseling programs. The main objective of this policy is to remove possible barriers to future employment.
The initiative taken by the Miami-Dade County Commission should motivate other South Florida counties and cities to implement similar measures, and the state to pass legislation removing the question from private and public applications forms.
People, especially in their youth, make stupid mistakes, which may have led to criminal convictions. However, the majority are not hardened criminals who present a potential threat to the workplace. Most have the ability to make significant contributions in the workplace. It’s only fair that they not be banned from gainful employment in their future because of their spotted past. Given a chance to apply, they have the opportunity to explain their circumstances at the interview. Here then, in a face-to-face a moment of understanding, they can at least possibly convince empathetic employers.