As job training practitioners and advocates for effective policies and practices for people returning from prison, we are pleased with the Baltimore City Council's decision to "Ban the Box." ("Council passes 'Ban the Box' legislation," April 28). The legislation expands current law by requiring private businesses with 10 or more employees to eliminate questions about previous arrests or convictions from initial job applications. The Greater Baltimore Grassroots Criminal Justice Network applauds Councilman Nick Mosby's leadership and the accompanying support of the City Council. This legislation is a critical step toward a stronger, more equitable and economically viable Baltimore.
The network is comprised of justice reform advocates, service providers and individuals impacted by the criminal justice system who work collectively to remove barriers to employment and housing for persons with a criminal background. From our experience working to train and place persons with a criminal background into employment, we know it is difficult for even highly-skilled graduates to secure employment with a criminal background, even if it is a minor transgression from many years ago. The fact is, qualified people with a criminal record are more likely to get hired if they have a chance to explain their past during an in-person interview.
With a significant number of the labor pool in Baltimore having a criminal record, particularly people of color, this law is of particular importance to the growth and development of our community. According to the Maryland Division of Corrections, 72 percent of people who entered Maryland's prison system in 2010 were African-American yet they comprise only 29 percent of the overall population in the state. And according to "Baltimore Behind Bars," a report on the Baltimore jails, African-Americans comprise 89 percent of the people held in the Baltimore jail despite making up only 64 percent of the Baltimore population. The residual effects of racial disparities in the Maryland criminal justice system are often felt in employment opportunities, particularly in Baltimore.
This "Ban the Box" policy also achieves a good balance between the needs of businesses and the needs of job seekers. Employers can still run background checks on applicants after making a conditional offer of employment. Moreover, the law exempts positions for which employers are legally required to investigate an applicant's background. The new law will provide thousands of Baltimore residents the opportunity to secure an interview and explain not only their past, but any redemptive efforts or attractive skills they offer.
The new legislation promotes a progressive and enlightened approach, and with this vote, the council has made Baltimore a stronger and safer city. The mayor's signature on this bill will show that Baltimore leaders promote fair hiring practices and believe all qualified residents deserve the opportunity to work here. People who have served their time and paid their debt to society should be allowed the dignity of work and self-sufficiency, not a lifetime of social and economic disadvantage. The end result will be safer communities for all of us.
John Mello and Caryn York, Baltimore
The writers are, respectively, projects director of the Baltimore Center for Green Careers and policy associate for the Job Opportunities Task Force.
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