By Julie Schaffer
“Fair Chance Hiring,” also known as “Ban the Box,” is finally getting some much deserved airtime in Spokane. This is welcome news to the 1 in 4 individuals who have a criminal record and who desperately want to tell potential employers why they are the best pick for the job, an opportunity many of them do not get because of the box on the application that asks about criminal history. Research shows that people who check the box rarely move forward in the hiring process, regardless of whether or not they qualify for the job, how long ago their conviction was, what it was for, or what they’ve done since that time. To prevent this arbitrary rejection, and to ensure that employers are not missing out on undiscovered talent, 21 states and over 100 jurisdictions have mandated that employers delay asking about criminal history until later in the hiring process – ideally until after the applicant pool has been narrowed based on qualifications and after face-to-face interviews. Under such policies, employers can still do background checks, they can still ask applicants about their criminal history, and they can still hire the best fit for the job.
Most policies apply to public employers (like City of Spokane’s current policy), but more and more jurisdictions are mandating that private employers comply as well. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do (we used to allow businesses to disqualify people of color and women), it increases public safety by dramatically reducing the chance that someone will commit another crime, reduces reliance on public benefits, increases the tax base and helps the local economy, ensures that employers aren’t missing out on highly qualified employees, reduces costs related to incarceration, reduces racial disparity in hiring (people of color are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and therefore suffer more from “the box,” and it allows people who have served their time to return to our community and help us make it thrive.
We are pleased that our city councilmembers are currently exploring whether to require private employers in Spokane to delay background checks until after the initial application stage, something the City has been doing (without incident) for the past year. City Council hosted a Fair Chance Hiring Forum on March 8 to educate themselves and the community more about this issue. Councilmembers Stuckart and Beggs organized the forum, along with Smart Justice Spokane member orgs CFJ, PJALs and I Did the Time. District Court Judge Richard Leland graciously moderated with humor and a genuine interest in how this relates to the cycle of crime he sees every day on the bench. Approximately 100 people showed up (during the Gonzaga WCC championship game!), and it played live on City Cable 5 (Forum Video). A WSU PhD student presented research showing that employment dramatically reduces crime, CFJ presented the common elements of fair chance hiring laws, and formerly incarcerated individuals courageously shared their personal stories of healing, change, education, and then heartbreaking rejection by ‘the box.” The evening ended with a diverse panel of business people who have voluntarily removed the box with great results, the City’s Chief Civil Service Examiner who is implementing the City’s Fair Chance Hiring policy, GSI’s new CEO Todd Mielke, and the leader of I Did the Time Layne Pavey. The discussion was rich and honest, and I believe it demonstrated that there is enough common ground and shared love for this community to create fair hiring in Spokane.
To learn more, visit www.nelp.org/campaign/ensuring-fair-chance-to-work, and watch the Forum Video. And please spread the word and tell council members what you think (their emails are below). Our leaders need to hear that the people in this community support Fair Chance Hiring!
Ben Stuckart – firstname.lastname@example.org
Amber Waldref – email@example.com
Mike Fagan – firstname.lastname@example.org
Candace Mumm – email@example.com
Karen Stratton – firstname.lastname@example.org
Lori Kinnear – email@example.com
Breean Beggs – firstname.lastname@example.org