By Brittany Moore
Four and a half years ago former Civil Rights Clinic (“CRC”) members initiated a project called Ban The Box (“BTB”) in an attempt to persuade the City of Charlotte (“City”) to remove the question on initial employment applications asking about an applicant’s criminal history. On March 1, 2014, we accomplished that goal. This blog will take you through what BTB is, the history of the BTB movement in the City, the future of Ban The Box in North Carolina, and my personal reflection on BTB and the recent outcome.
What is BTB?
BTB is a grassroots movement that began in 2004 in California by encouraging public and private employers to remove the application question that asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime other than minor traffic offenses.” This postpones inquiry into an applicant’s criminal history until later in the hiring process.
BTB does not propose that employers mandated by law to conduct criminal background checks for the particular position, for example police officer, remove the question from their applications nor does it propose that employers never be allowed to conduct a criminal background check.
The purpose of the BTB movement is to level out the playing field for job applicants who have a criminal history. Removing the conviction inquiry box from job applications allows the applicant to be considered objectively for a position based upon their qualifications. As a result a person who would otherwise be qualified for a job, absent their criminal
history, is given an opportunity to be interviewed and demonstrate to the potential employer they are both qualified and rehabilitated. Another goal removing the box achieves is removing the mental barrier experienced by those who have a criminal history when they are applying for jobs. Many people have said they feel as though their application is thrown in the trash or not considered because they have checked the box when it is being reviewed next to an applicant who does not have a criminal history, and unfortunately this may actually be the case. To date, over fifty cities and municipalities have BTB, six of these are in NC, including Charlotte, and ten states have adopted statewide BTB ordinances.
CRC and BTB
LaWanna Mayfield, All Of Us Or None, MOURN, local business, and individuals with criminal histories; who took on BTB in an effort to persuade the City of Charlotte to BTB. Research indicates there are three major issues affecting Charlotte: homelessness, recidivism, and unemployment. The students reached out to the community regarding BTB and rapidly gained support. On February 27, 2013, the CRC and over one-hundred community members and representatives from local organizations and businesses, wearing the BTB red, rallied and spoke in an attempt to persuade the City Council to send BTB to the Economic and Development Committee (“Committee”) for further review—which it did by a six to four vote. Organizations and businesses in attendance included Changed Choices, Pasta & Provisions, Democracy NC, Action NC, Charlotte Community Justice Coalition, and Center for Community Transitions (“CCT”), just to name a few. Unfortunately, after reaching Committee, BTB lost some momentum generated at the Council Meeting in February and did not have enough votes to get out of Committee and into the City ordinances.In 2009, the CRC clinic members were part of a coalition which included CCT,
Disappointed at the lack of support generated for BTB in Committee, Brittany Moore, Cleat Walters II, Isaac Sturgill, and Erik Ortega (“The Group”) reconvened to strategize and find a new way to bring BTB back to the forefront of the City’s mind. On November 26, 2013, The Group and a citizen affected by the box met with Charlotte City Manger Ron Carlee, Assistant City Manager Ron Kimble, and Director of Human Resources Cheryl Brown. The Group provided statistics to Carlee, Kimble, and Brown showing that 190 of 203 persons who utilized CCT’s assistance in obtaining a job maintained that job and did not recidivate, showing a mere 6% recidivism rate compared to Mecklenburg County’s recidivism rate of 37%. The City already practices progressive non-discriminatory policies, as they currently employ persons with a criminal history, so The Group stressed that by BTB the City would be affirmatively demonstrating this to the citizens.
A citizen personally affected by the box gave some insight into the barriers faced by persons with criminal histories when applying for jobs. The box creates a mental barrier to those with criminal histories in search of a job discouraging them from applying when forced to check the box. Applicants with a criminal history are also discouraged, after applying and checking the box, when an initial interview is not extended. On March 1, 2014, the City removed the box from the City’s job application thereby removing one initial barrier in obtaining employment and encouraging those with criminal histories to actively seek employment and not recidivate.
Future of BTB
Students in the CRC are currently planning on lobbying surrounding counties to BTB in an effort to support taking BTB statewide in NC. Additionally, the CRC will be lobbying for private companies to also ban the box, following the lead of Target Corporation, who enacted a BTB policy in 2013 and is the largest privately owned company to date to do so. This would significantly increase employment opportunities for those with prior convictions. Stay tuned to the CRC Blog to follow the expansion and growth of BTB.
I began working on BTB through the CRC in August 2013, a slow period in the project. After learning BTB did not have enough votes to get out of Committee, it was a little discouraging so we had to find a way to either regenerate the momentum gained in February 2013 or abandon the project. The latter was not an option because of the countless hours put into the movement so far in Charlotte and the sheer number of persons impacted by the movement. So I began working with the CCT, Erik, Isaac, and Cleat on this project and was honored to do so. Isaac and Cleat were among the initial members to begin BTB and it is humbling to watch their hard work and initial research pay off. Additionally, working with Erik at CCT and the continuous support and resources he provides to persons affected by the box is remarkable. In my short time working on this project I have become heavily invested in the outcome, progression, and future of BTB in NC and nationwide. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for the BTB movement and charge you all to become involved and be a part of something that millions can benefit from.