May 3, 2014

New state rules can help former inmates and employers

“I’d like to hold my head up and be proud of who I am,

But they won’t let my secret go untold”

— Merle Haggard in “Branded Man”

Across the nation, legislatures, city councils and county commissions have moved to “ban the box” by forbidding employers from asking for someone’s criminal history on a job application.

In April, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal issued an order executive prohibiting state agencies from asking about criminal history on job applications, except on applications for certain high security jobs. Instead, an applicant’s criminal history will be discussed during any interview, thus allowing them to discuss their past and put it in context.

Deal also signed into law in April a bill that requires the Board of Corrections to start a program in which offenders can earn certificates for going through treatment and vocational training while they are in prison. That certificate creates a “presumption of due care” care for those who hire or rent to former inmates or admit them into school’s or training programs. Those convicted of “serious violent felony,” such as murder, rape, armed robbery, aggravated child molestation, kidnapping or aggravated sexual battery, are not eligible of these certificates.

Deal and the Legislature deserve credit for taking these steps.

We aren’t sure banning the box completely makes sense, at least not for those who have felony records. For instance, employers may have very good reason not to hire someone who has been convicted or pleaded guilty to embezzlement for a job handling money.

And criminal records are public records, something that should not be hidden.

Making more information available to employers can only help them make better decisions in hiring. Certainly, the fact that a person has been convicted of a crime may be a relevant piece of information for an employer looking to fill a position. But so is the fact a person completed training or education programs or went through substance abuse or other counseling while in prison.

The government should be wary of denying information to employers, but if it can help them get more and better information, if it can help show them that someone with a criminal  history has turned his life around, it should do so.


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