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Georgia Cities Should ‘Ban the Box’ to Provide a Second Chance

April 11, 2016  |  Wes Cantrell, State Representative
Wes Cantrell
Almost two years ago, my pastor was asked to join Governor Deal’s Crimi­nal Justice Reform Interfaith Council. On a couple of occasions when he was unable to attend the meetings, he asked me to go in his place. It was at one of these meetings that I was in­troduced to the concept “Ban the Box.”
I had never heard the phrase before. Governor Deal issued an Executive Order which would “ban the box” from all applications for state employment. I was im­mediately intrigued with the idea.
Simply put, “banning the box” means prohibiting the question about a potential employee’s criminal record on an initial application form. The employer must consider a job candidate’s qualifications first, without the stigma of a criminal record. Applicants are provided a fair chance by removing the convic­tion history question on the job application and de­laying the background check until later in the hiring process.
What does this have to do with Criminal Justice Re­form? Recidivism is a major problem in Georgia, and for that matter all over America. Recidivism refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior after hav­ing already been incarcerated resulting in a return to prison. The number one cause of recidivism is the lack of meaningful employment. When an offender cannot find a job, they often relapse into the very behavior that got them in trouble in the first place.
Employers are reluctant to hire people with crimi­nal records. Almost all employment applications con­tain a standard question with a box to check if the applicant has a criminal history. Upon seeing this box checked, most employers toss the application imme­diately into the trash—never even giving the person a chance to compete for the job.
To clarify, banning the box does not prohibit an employer from asking questions about a potential em­ployee’s criminal record or performing a background check. It just delays this part of the application pro­cess until the initial interview. This at least gives the potential employee the opportunity to make his or her case as to why he or she is the best person for the job. It also gives them a chance to explain their criminal history in person, instead of just having a box checked on a form.
Thanks to Governor Deal, Georgia has become the leader in America when it comes to Criminal Justice Reform. We must make sure that every offender who has served his time and paid his debt to society has an equal opportunity at meaningful employment. We have banned the box at the state level. Now is the time for every municipality in Georgia to follow suit and ban it on all their city employment applications.
The good news is three cities in Georgia are al­ready setting the example for us. Just over three years ago, Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council made the city the first entity in our state to officially ban the box. The cities of Albany and Columbus fol­lowed suit about a year ago. We are heading in the right direction, and I urge you to consider leading your city to do the same.
There is only one municipality located in House District 22 which I represent—Ball Ground. Mayor Rick Roberts has done an outstanding job leading this historic city. After meeting with Roberts and dis­cussing this issue at length, Ball Ground has decided to join in this effort by banning the box on city em­ployment applications. Now, it’s time for all the cit­ies in our great state to join the effort in fair hiring practices.
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