Nearly all of us have filled out a job application that asks if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime. Check the box yes, and you need to explain yourself. Well, that’s now a thing of the past for most potential city of Charlotte employees. City Manager Ron Carlee has decided to “ban the box.” We were joined this morning by the man who got this movement started in Charlotte a couple years ago. He’s Jason Huber, a law professor at the Charlotte School of Law, where he heads the school’s Civil Rights Clinic.
Kevin: What got you started on advocating on this change? What did it all involve?
Huber: First, let me be clear that the Charlotte School of Law Civil Rights Clinic was part of a much broader community coalition that has been advocating for the city to “ban the box” now for about four-and-a-half years. What got the Civil Rights Clinic interested in this project was when we launched the Civil Rights Clinic in 2009, the students and I, and the school, decided to do some research in the community and try to find the best area where we could have significant impact.
And in doing that research, we found that there are three major issues that affect the population in Mecklenburg County. That is homelessness, recidivism and unemployment. And as we did our research, we obviously realized that there is a cyclical nature to those things, and we decided to work on and propose some reforms.
Kevin: City government applicants will still be asked about their criminal record later in the interview process, so what is the point of removing the box from the initial application?
Huber: Well, there are a couple of points. One is that it sends a message to otherwise qualified applicants that if you’ve made a mistake in your life, and you’ve paid your dues to society, then Charlotte is a place where you can get a fair shake. It’s sort of the Charlotte way. The other thing that it does is that for the person screening the application, it allows them to take a more objective assessment of the qualifications of the applicant. The city already has a progressive policy of non-discrimination. And in making this decisions, the City Manager Mr. (Ron) Carlee and his staff just nudged their already existing positive policy a little bit further to potentially open up for otherwise qualified job applicants.
Kevin: Well, doesn’t that objective assessment go out the window in the second round when they can consider the applicants criminal history?
Huber: No, because at that point the person has had their foot in the door. And when you are applying for a job, the most important thing is to get your foot in the door. And once that foot is in the door and the person that is making the hiring decisions sees the actual person, and sees their actual qualifications, then that person is better able to make an objective assessment as to whether or not the criminal conviction is a disqualifier for the job for which the individual is applying.
And in making that determination, the city will consider various things, like how long ago the conviction was, the nature of the conviction, the job requirements, and the rehabilitation of the person. And time and time again we see that the single greatest quality that makes a person a good employee is not necessarily what they have done in the past, but their resilience. And individuals who have rehabilitated themselves from their past mistakes, often demonstrate the type and quality of resilience that employers want in an employee.
Kevin: Isn’t there some sort of assumption there though that rehabilitation has happened? You say that these applicants would be rehabilitated…there is an assumption there, isn’t there?
Huber: Well, there is an assumption in “banning the box” that the city will make an objective assessment as to whether or not rehabilitation has happened. Certainly everybody who has a criminal record that is applying for a job is not automatically rehabilitated just because they’ve served the final terms of their sentence. But this policy allows an objective assessment of a variety of factors concerning whether or the individual with the criminal history is an otherwise qualified job applicant.
Kevin: Is it safe to assume that this is something that you want to see changed in private businesses too?
Huber: It’s not only something that we want to see changed in private businesses, it’s also something that the Charlotte School of Law Civil Rights Clinic is going to continue to work on in the state of North Carolina. Yes, we are going to lobby private businesses in Mecklenburg County, but we are also taking “ban the box” on the road this week, and we are going to go to surrounding municipalities and counties, and hopefully throughout the state that continue to have the box on the job application, and make our same case to them that society, the community and individuals with criminal histories will greatly benefit from taking this one very modest step that will have very significant implications.
Some positions are exempt from the city’s new application policy. Applications for jobs such as police officer and firefighter will still ask applicants if they have a criminal record.
Jason Huber is a law professor at the Charlotte School of Law, where he heads the school’s Civil Rights Clinic.