Detroit may cut felony box on job apps

A woman fills out a job application.


BOB MOON: How many times have you checked the box on this question: Have you ever been convicted of a felony? Many job applications ask, of course. But advocates for ex-cons say the question handcuffs those who want to stay on the straight and narrow
through legitimate employment.

Sarah Hulett of Michigan Radio says Detroit
is the latest city to consider banning the box.

SARAH HULETT: Inside a Detroit office building, half a dozen men sit in a narrow room, listening to Derek Blackmon give advice about finding a job. Blackmon works for a program called Flip the Script with Goodwill Industries. And the guys he's counseling have all been recently released from prison.

DEREK BLACKMON: What else is good or bad about the interview?

PAROLEE: You can tell them you'll be a good, hard worker. You're going to be at work on time.

BLACKMON: My man is in the building! I've been waiting. You can sell yourself!

But many ex-offenders will never get to the interview. That's because checking the felony conviction box on the job application will often send their forms straight to the reject pile. So Detroit could soon remove the question from government job applications, and make city contractors do the same.

City Councilman Ken Cockrel is sponsoring the proposed ordinance. He says some people are worried the policy would be an affirmative action program for criminals. But Cockrel says applicants will still have to undergo background checks for some jobs.

KEN COCKREL: And that's important because obviously you don't want somebody that's got multiple drunk driving convictions getting a job driving a D-DOT bus. But if you're maybe somebody applying to cut grass on city property, you shouldn't necessarily be penalized or asked whether or not you did something 20 years ago.

It's estimated that about 27,000 people in Detroit are on probation or parole. And advocates for ex-cons say shutting them out of the workforce is bad for the city in the long run.

Keith Bennett runs the Flip the Script program.

KEITH BENNETT: You get in where you fit in. And if these people can't fit back into society, they'll get back into the life of crime. And we're going to pay for that.

Detroit is not the first city to consider the change. Boston and Chicago have already dropped the question from job applications. But officials in those cities say it's difficult to tell whether more ex-cons are finding gainful employment. That's because the poor economy means there's not much hiring going on.

In Detroit, I'm Sarah Hulett for Marketplace.

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Banning the box will cost employers more because of the expense of more background checks. This will just lead to racial profiling when applications are submitted.

I answer questions for ex-offenders and felons at my blog: http://howfelonscangetjobs.blogspot.com

After two marijuana offenses nearly 40 years ago I'm all too familiar with this problem. The worst part of the sentence is after we get out. In the beginning it wasn't so bad, because people had to really dig to get at the information. Now we are followed by an electronic Mark of Cain for the rest of our lives. The government goes so far as to share the information internationally now. The rules changed after the game was played.
I really feel for the younger people affected by this. At least I had a period of time when I could slip though the cracks and build a life.
[BTW, Marketplace staff, you can infer my surname from my e-mail address. I just don't want to post it publicly.]

Why would this surprise anyone? When you have an administration that advocates lawlessness by suing AZ preventing them from simply enforcing existing federal law, Being a criminal is less offensive. 5 years from now, with Obama's "change you can believe in" putting down criminal activity on the application will actually be considered part of the job history!

And you shouldn't be penalized because your crack addict father accused you of pointing your finger at him in a courtroom, which in Maryland is a second degree felony assault, especially when you have no other criminal convictions. We are just getting started at getting this situation corrected but in the meantime, this fine hardworking fellow needs employment.

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