Getting ex-offenders back into successful employment is an important challenge for our city, but the "ban the box" proposal makes a better slogan than solution ("Ban the box in Baltimore," Jan. 8).
Members of the Baltimore City Council want to stop private employers from asking "have you been convicted of a crime" on employment applications. Instead, a councilman argues, employers should grant interviews and only after offering a job, conduct background checks to determine if a former thief should work in a bank or an ex-dealer drive the bus. Being somewhat removed from the private sector, the councilman may not be aware that interviews and job training actually cost money.
Michael Pinard, director of the clinical law program at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, argues in his commentary that "many employers look no further than the box, if it is checked 'yes,' the application goes into the trash." Often true, except, obviously only to the extent they are able to attract qualified applicants without criminal backgrounds. Unlike what happens at the University of Maryland, where low admissions rates enhance standing, a position is usually advertised because it needs to be filled yesterday. Ideally, a "son/sister/neighbor or good kid who needs work" comes along and you take them on without wasting any time checking boxes because screening applications and conducting interviews is not actually how we make our living. (And that's how ex-cons usually get hired too — someone vouches for them.)
We've all done dumb things. Fortunately, most of us have been given second chances, but City Hall can't wave a wand and make the past disappear or argue seriously that decisions do not have consequences or that honesty and integrity do not matter in almost all things.
Given the disarray within city government — erroneous water bills, irregular tax bills, the speed camera fiasco, phone system feud and a money-losing hotel — I wish the Baltimore City Council would be more focused on getting its own house in order before it tries further micro-management of the private sector.
Mark Counselman, Baltimore
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