Wake County

Wake leaders ease county hiring process for ex-cons

Starting May 1, the Wake County government’s job application forms will no longer include questions about candidates’ criminal histories.

The county’s job applications currently ask candidates if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime, excluding minor traffic violations. The Wake County Board of Commissioners on Monday voted to remove the question as part of a new rule commissioners are calling the “fair chance hiring ordinance.”

“Many men and women with criminal records have strong skills and a desire to turn their lives around,” said Commissioner Jessica Holmes. “By instituting this new ordinance, we give them the opportunity to compete fairly for county jobs for which they’re qualified.”

The move drew support from criminal justice reform activists and ex-convicts who spoke at the commissioners meeting Monday afternoon. Commissioners held a special press conference after their vote to explain their move and emphasize its importance.

Wake joins a growing number of local governments that have moved to make employment easier for ex-cons as part of a national “Ban the Box” campaign. The “box” refers to a square commonly included on job applications that people are supposed to check if they’ve ever been convicted of a felony.

The county will continue to conduct background checks on candidates as required by state law as well as for jobs related to public safety, county finances and other “sensitive” positions. But if a candidate has a criminal past, commissioners plan to require decision makers to consider a number of factors – such as the nature of the crime, how long ago it happened, the number of offenses and the candidate’s age at the time of the crime – before accepting or rejecting the candidate.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht