Groups want felony question removed from job applications

Staff writerNovember 18, 2010 

— Will North Carolina's capital city join a handful of other cities across the country and ban the box?

Several community advocacy groups for fair hiring practices in the Triangle are hosting a meeting tonight in downtown Raleigh to jump start a campaign to remove the criminal conviction question - "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" - from public sector job applications.

The groups - the Community Success Initiative, the Raleigh Second Chance Alliance, Congregations for Social Justice and the N.C. Justice Center - say removal of that checkbox is a critical step toward ensuring that felony charges don't follow people around forever and don't diminish their chances of finding the economic security that may keep them from returning to prison.

Ajamu Dilahunt, an outreach coordinator with the N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh, said the goal of the local campaign is to urge the City of Raleigh, Wake County and possibly large employers to remove the box from their applications.

"It's important for a couple of reasons," Dilahunt said today. "Right now the economic crisis we're in makes it difficult for people to find employment. We need to remove the barriers that exist so that people can find jobs."

Dilahunt said that people with a felony on their record are often denied employment opportunities even if they have the training and suitability required and have shown a marked change in their lifestyles. Those criteria, he added, should be the distinctive features that employers notice instead of a criminal history.

Dilahunt noted, too, that if employers invest in people with criminal histories, they are investing in the safety of the greater community, since people with legal opportunities and legitimate employment are less likely to resort to crime.

Efforts to ban the box are gaining momentum. New laws were signed last year in Minnesota and New Mexico, joining Hawaii and New York. A handful of cities, including San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Austin, Texas, have removed the felony question.

Dennis Gaddy, founding director of the 6-year-old Community Success Initiative, which provides support for people coming out of prison and jail, noted that 650,000 to 700,000 people come out of the nation's prisons each year, including 22,000 to 26,000 in North Carolina.

Although Gaddy said he did not know the percentage of former inmates who gain legitimate employment, he said "the majority are hindered by that question."

Gaddy said the local campaign is in harmony with statewide efforts geared toward removing barriers that enable former inmates to lead positive lives upon release from prison.

Tonight's meeting will be an open forum where former inmates will share their stories and their difficulties trying to find work.

"This is an opportunity for the impacted to talk amongst themselves and begin to organize to deal with this issue," Dilahunt said. "They will talk about their difficulties getting employment, the strategies they are using and what programs are out there and how can we work with the city."

The forum will start tonight at 7 at 1116 N. Blount St. or (919) 829-4533

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