Ban the Box receiving national attention… Again!

October 1, 2014

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law is a non-profit organization based out of Chicago that provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty.  As part of the Shriver Center’s advocacy, they choose to highlight other groups who are doing excellent work throughout the US.

Last April, the Charlotte School of Law Civil Rights Clinic won the Clinical Legal Education Association’s Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project for its great work on the Ban the Box project.  This year, the work continues as the Clinic is pushing Ban the Box out into municipalities surrounding Charlotte, as well as persuading private companies to adopt the same policies.  The Shriver Center posted a wonderful synopsis of the Clinic’s work with Ban the Box, giving the Clinic well-deserved national recognition.

Check out this link on the Shriver Center website to read more about how Ban the Box is helping the Charlotte community.


I Am Not My Record

March 13, 2014

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.[1] 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.[2]

 

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.

Civil Rights Clinic Helps Ban the Box

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,[5] 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.

Personal Reflection

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.


 


Ban the Box in the News

April 21, 2013

Over the past two months public dialogue about Ban the Box has increased, spurred on by the Charlotte City Council’s decision to send the issue to the Economic Development Committee.  Several local media outlets exposed the issue to a wider audience, and helped Charlotteans begin to understand the importance and details of the proposed ordinance.

Creative Loafing highlighted the contributions of Councilwoman Mayfield and the Civil Right Clinic in getting the City Council to consider the needs of the thousands of Charlotteans who have conviction histories and are looking for work.  Councilwoman champions ‘Banning the Box:’ Spearheaded by LaWana Mayfield, job application question regarding prior convictions debated in city committee.

The Charlotte Observer ran an editorial by Civil Rights Clinic member Cleat Walters III, which highlighted the benefits of the ordinance to the City.  Banning ‘the box’ eliminates unfair obstacle to jobs

Unfortunately, not all of the stories in the media were accurate.  While we all have sympathy for the family and fiance of murder victim Danielle Watson, who was killed during a robbery inside the Flying Biscuit, WBTV’s story highlighting his opposition to Ban the Box “Murder victim’s fiance outraged over bill to remove “felon” question from job application” fails to identify the fact that the ordinance does not prohibit criminal background checks for job applicants.

Hopefully, Charlotte will follow cities like Richmond that recently enacted a similar ordinance as reported by The Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Richmond City Council unanimously passes ‘ban the box’ ordinance.

Ban the Box is slated for discussion during the May 2nd meeting of the Charlotte City Council’s Economic Development Committee.  The coalition hopes the  meeting room CH-14 in the Government Center will be packed when they consider this important measure at 12pm that day.


Civil Rights Clinic members speak to City Council about reforming Citizens Review Board

April 2, 2013

On Monday evening, April 1, 2013, the Charlotte City Council heard Civil Rights Clinic members Isabel Carson and Daniel Melo advocate for the reform of the city’s Citizens Review Board. Isabel and Daniel were two of a series of eight speakers to the City Council about the Citizen’s Review Board and the need for change. Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board is the forum for appeals for citizens who have complained about police misconduct. After an informational presentation by the city’s stakeholders and then public input during the Citizens’ Forum, the City Council decided to (1) have the City Manager develop a stakeholder process within the next 90 days and (2) send the ordinance, City Ordinance 849, to the Council Manager Relations Committee for review. Changing the standard of review and the need for transparency were recognized as primary areas in need of reform. The Council asked for further data collection, analysis, and possible reform of those issues.

Board

dan

Isabel
Pictures by Katie Webb

Please stay tuned to the Civil Rights Blog for more updates and information in the following weeks!

For further information, please read:

Observer article April 1st Council Meeting: After scrutiny, council votes to examine review board

February Observer Article: The real story on the Citizens Review Board

By Lindsey Engels


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


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

waltersc@students.charlottelaw.edu

Charlotte School of Law Civil Rights Clinic

By Hailey Strobel


CRC in the News

January 28, 2012

The Clinic’s work preparing for the upcoming DNC and our opposition to the ordinances passed on Monday hasn’t gone unnoticed.  Jennifer Moxley of News 14 Carolina visited our Friday meeting and ran this segment about our work: Charlotte Law Students Advocate Debate, Protest Ordinance.


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