In the Shadow of The Box

February 18, 2013

Approximately one in every 163 adults is incarcerated in Mecklenburg County. That amounts to about 3,800 people in jail and prison at any given time. As of last July, 6,874 were on probation. The unfortunate reality facing many of these individuals with a criminal past is that they walk out of a prison cell, straight into a box.

This “Box” is often a simple question on employment applications that requires the applicants to check “yes” or “no” as to whether they have previously been convicted of a crime. According to Devah Pager, author of The Mark of a Criminal Record, once the applicant checks the box, employers are twice as likely to deny employment to an applicant with a criminal record than an applicant without one. People who complete their time and are released find themselves chained to their past, with a dark shadow standing over them every time they fill out a job application or sit down for an interview. They all stand in the shadow of The Box.

According to the Center for Community Transitions and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, 97 percent of those incarcerated in Mecklenburg County will return to the community, many with little or no resources, and nearly a 50 percent chance of being rearrested within a year. In a study done by the Indiana Department of Corrections, if employed, ex-offenders’ recidivism dropped from a high of 44.7 percent, down to 28.5 percent for someone without a GED or high school diploma; the numbers go as low as 17.3 percent if that individual has a college degree and employment.

The challenges individuals with criminal backgrounds face disproportionately impact people of color, the working poor, and minorities; populations which are convicted and incarcerated in numbers disproportionate to their population. According to the Department of Justice, African-American and Hispanic males were imprisoned at a rate between 2 to 7 times that of white males nationwide during 2011. This imbalance has created a disparate impact on job seekers from minority communities. The Box greatly exacerbates the re-entry adversity which thousands of potential employees, their families and communities already face.

In an effort to promote and assist with the communal reintegration of those with a criminal history, the Ban The Box movement seeks to remove the requirement that applicants disclose all past convictions on a preliminary application for public employment with the City of Charlotte. Past efforts in the community have shown that employment dramatically lowers the recidivism rate for participating ex-offenders by as much as 35 percent below the national average. Research from the Center for Community Transitions shows that finding and retaining employment are major factors in preventing return to prison. Over 20 cities have passed similar legislation including Durham City, Durham County, San Francisco, Seattle, and more. Some states, like Massachusetts, have successfully adopted legislation at the state level.

The cost? An opportunity to explain. City employers would not be prohibited from making background checks, but would instead have to extend a conditional offer of employment prior to a check taking place. Qualified applicants would be able to discuss their criminal history in an interview and explain why it should not disqualify them, as well as provide evidence of their rehabilitation. Adopting the ordinance would not only lower recidivism, preventing the overcrowding of prisons and jails, but would also significantly decrease the cost to taxpayers of housing inmates.

Ex-offenders may have few or no resources to begin to unshackle themselves from their past convictions and gain lawful employment. Through this proposal they will have a chance at becoming functional, contributing members of society once again, while simultaneously decreasing their chances of recidivism. The Ban The Box Coalition plans to present its resolution and proposed ordinance to the City Council Monday, February 25th, at 6:15pm. Everyone is invited to attend and show their support. With our help, ex-offenders have a chance to get out from under the shadow of The Box.

By Daniel Melo

Legal Dose Episode 1, Spring 2013

February 15, 2013

The first episode of the Legal Dose for Spring 2013 is available on youtube for your listening pleasure!

Charlotte Coalition is bringing “Ban the Box” Movement to Charlotte City Council Meeting

February 6, 2013

Charlotte, North Carolina – January 25, 2012 – Grassroots movement “Ban the Box” is presenting a proposed ordinance to the Charlotte City Council at its February 25th 6:15 pm meeting in the Government Center.

Ban the Box’s model ordinance would, among other things, remove the question on the City of Charlotte’s initial employment applications that requires job applicants to check whether or not they have been previously convicted of a crime. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that conviction histories are not being used as an automatic bar to employment.  The ordinance also requires the City to give notice to municipal job applicants that it is going to conduct a conviction history check, delays conviction history checks until the city has extended a conditional offer of employment, and gives job applicants an opportunity to present evidence of their rehabilitation to the person making the hiring decision.

The model ordinance does not require that Charlotte hire individuals with conviction histories.  It merely seeks to level the playing field so that an individual with a conviction history may get a “foot in the door.” The goal of the ordinance is to reduce recidivism in the community while still ensuring community safety.

Ban the Box is on the agenda for the City Council with the following speakers:  Henderson Hill of the Center of Community Justice Coalition, Isaac Sturgill of Legal Aid of North Carolina, Erik Ortega of Community Transitions, Monique Maddox of Second Helpings Charlotte, and Tommy George, owner of Pasta Provisions.  Ban the Box is part of a larger effort by community leaders and the Civil Rights Clinic of Charlotte School of Law to reduce recidivism rates in Charlotte.

Ban the Box is asking for community support at the City Council meeting on Monday, February 25th at 6:15 pm.  All that is necessary to show support is to be present at the meeting.

Anyone interested in a copy of the ordinance or other Ban the Box information may contact:

Cleat Walters

Charlotte School of Law Civil Rights Clinic

By Hailey Strobel

Students, we need your support in helping the Civil Rights Clinic get the Ban the Box initiative passed by the Charlotte City Council!

January 14, 2013

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ban the Box, it is an ordinance intended to encourage full participation of motivated and qualified persons with criminal histories in our workforce, reduce recidivism, and assure public safety.  The ordinance accomplishes these ends by establishing practices that:

1)      Encourage the use of an applicant’s job application as a tool in appropriately assess information about their qualification for the position desired without the specter of      any past legal mistakes.

2)      Help city employees making hiring decisions more adequately and correctly assess an applicant’s criminal history by providing a qualified applicant an opportunity to discuss any inaccuracies, contest the contend and relevance of a criminal history, and provide information about rehabilitation.

3)      Encourage the full employment and full integration of people with conviction histories back into the community as a critical part of ensuring public safety.

4)      Ensure strict EEOC compliance in relation to criminal backgrounds.

We are planning on presenting the initiative at the City Council meeting on Monday February 25th at 6:15pm.  Our goal is to have a turn-out between 50-100 people in support of the measure, along with 4 people who will address the Council directly.  I would like to get your commitment to come out and support the initiative at that meeting.  Along with your support, I would like to also enlist your help in spreading the word, and getting people with whom you work or know to also commit to coming to the meeting.  In our conversations with the people who got a similar ordinance passed in Durham, they said that the number of people who attended the meeting, a little more than 50 people, was the key to their success.  If the City Council sees that this is a community effort, we have a great chance of success.  We already have Councilwoman Mayfield in our corner, and she is ready to motion to have the initiative sent to committee after our presentation.  What we need now is your commitment to attend, and your help in spreading the word so that the rest of the Council will be motivated to pass the ordinance.  If you can come to the meeting, please email me at,  and I will add your name to the list of attendees.  You may also forward this email to your contacts, and enlist their help.  Please have them email their commitment to my email address.  I look forward to working with all of you, and thank you for your support!

The Legal Dose – Episode 5

May 1, 2012

On this week’s episode of the Legal Dose hosts Ashely Washington and Jordan Dupuis will talk with Civil Rights Clinic members Leandra Murray and Karen Vaughn about their clinic projects. Leandra will address Ban the Box and Karen will discuss the project she created in conjunction with the Charlotte Housing Authority where law students as serve as hearing officers in Section 8 voucher termination proceedings. Then the Legal Dose original Laws of Nature with Jason Huber. And we will conclude the episode with Get to Know Charlotte Law Professor Lenne Espenchied. Enjoy.

You can find episode 5 of the Legal Dose, along with all our past episodes on our U Stream channel:

Ban the Box Project Gains Support

April 2, 2012

Ban the Box is a local coalition of groups and individuals seeking to level the employment playing field for individuals with criminal convictions. The Clinic, along with Action North Carolina and the Center for Community Transitions, has been involved with Ban The Box for almost two years.   After researching the legal ramifications of local public and private hiring practices and finding that there is a strong cyclical link between unemployment and recidivism as well as unemployment and homelessness, Clinic members drafted a model ordinance to be presented before city council which would revamp current municipal hiring practices.

Ban the Box met on February 10th to discuss various strategies to get the ball rolling toward our ultimate goal of presenting and having the ordinance passed by City Council by the end of this semester.  Ban the Box is happy to report it has the local support of STRIVE Charlotte!  Strive Charlotte is a local nonprofit job placement organization whose mission is mission” to empower individuals through lifestyle changes that promote total wellness”.  The group assists participants by providing various job placement resources as well as job training, which provides basic skills many employment candidates will need in order to be successful and fruitful within their job search.

Recently, Ban the Box was featured on the Legal Dose, Charlotte School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic radio show.  There, law student Leandra Murray discussed the pillars and goals of Ban the Box in addition to describing the model ordinance. We are also seeking more endorsements from various organizations and individuals throughout the community.  If you’re interested in getting involved, please Contact Us.

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