Cities Need Sensible Policies for Hiring Ex-Offenders
This article from the New York Times highlights the difficulties ex-offenders face when seeking employment. In the current climate of rising unemployment, the intense competition for jobs puts ex-offenders at a significant disadvantage. This is a concern not just for ex-offenders, but for society as a whole. Six-hundred thousand people are released from U.S. prisons every year. Research has shown that roughly two-thirds of former prisoners will re-offend within three years of their release. A major determinant of whether an individual will re-offend is whether or not they were able to find steady employment. Therefore, when ex-offenders are unable to find employment it becomes a public safety issue.
Many cities already have extensive prisoner reentry programs that aim to find employment for ex-offenders. But there is another way that cities can assist ex-offenders find steady employment and stay out of prison. In 2004, Boston reformed its hiring policies in a way that does not unnecessarily exclude people with prior criminal offenses from employment opportunities within city government.
The policy defines which positions require criminal background checks. The city does not conduct a background check on an applicant unless the check is required by law or the city has made a “good faith determination” that the relevant position is of such sensitivity that a check is required. The “good faith determination” is loosely defined as applying to positions in which the prospective employee would be brought into unsupervised contact with youth or the elderly. The result is that questions regarding criminal history were removed from job applications and criminal background checks were no longer required, or even allowed, for the majority of positions in city government. Additionally, the city does not conduct a criminal background check until the applicant is found to be “otherwise qualified” for the position, meaning they meet all other criteria for a position.
In 2005, Boston took this policy one step further and extended it to vendors and contractors that do business with the city. The policy requires these businesses to adopt hiring policies similar to the city’s.
Currently, New York City’s hiring policy is dictated by State law. The law states, “Unfair discrimination against persons previously convicted of one or more criminal offenses prohibited.” However, yesterday the NY Daily News reported that the Health and Hospitals Corporation, the largest municipal hospital and health care system in the country, has a “blanket ban” on hiring ex-offenders. It seems that there is more that New York City could be doing to ensure that the city is not unnecessarily creating barriers to unemployment for ex-offenders.