City announces plan to ban checkbox from job applications
BY PENNY DICKERSON
Daytona Beach joined a growing number of cities around the country this week when it officially announced it was banning the box on applications that asks if someone has been convicted of a crime.
Applicants applying for city employment can now be assured they will be assessed based upon their qualifications versus potential discrimination for having a criminal record of a misdemeanor or felony.
The announcement came on Monday on the steps of City Hall where municipal officials were joined by community organizers who have been at the forefront of the local campaign known as “Ban the Box.”
Plenty of support
A Daytona Beach City Commission meeting held in February attracted more than a dozen citizens who requested the box be removed, including Mykal Tairu, one of the most ardent supporters.
Tairu is Florida program coordinator of the Vincentian Reentry Organizing Project (VROP), a grassroots organization that partnered with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to ensure a positive outcome.
“It’s almost impossible to find a job. No one wants to hire you when you check the box on convicted felon,” said Tairu. “The premise of the campaign is that anything that makes it harder for ex-offenders to find a job makes it likelier that they will re-offend, which is bad for society.”
City commissioners previously were given packets by VROP, including a sample copy of the ordinance from the City of Tampa that highlighted its benefits.
If someone was offered a job and the background check caught a “red flag” for a conviction that may not be compatible with the place of employment, the person that’s applying gets the opportunity to explain it. It is at that time a decision would need to be made by the city if wants to move forward with hiring that individual.
During the February commission meeting, Mayor Derrick Henry asked Tairu how much this issue would impact the City of Daytona Beach specifically. While hard figures weren’t available, the number of homeless population on the streets including those with criminal records was cited.
Across the state
Similar policies have been adopted in 13 states and over 100 cities and counties, including Jacksonville, St. Petersburg, Orlando and Tallahassee.
According to Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, his city removed the box from city applications with a clear understanding of how it will benefit local residents.
“The numbers in our own community show that we cannot afford to ignore this issue. Last year, over 1,700 formerly incarcerated individuals returned to Leon County and almost 200,000 more are expected to be released in Florida over the next five years,” Gillum told the Daytona Times on Wednesday.
Gillum emphasized that statistical and anecdotal evidence shows time and again that “Ban the Box’’ policies are one piece of the solution for helping people with records enter the employment market, and ultimately become responsible citizens.
“Banning the box isn’t about handouts, lack of disclosure or special treatment,” explained Gillum. “It isn’t about restricting the rights of the city to ask questions, or the obligation of individuals to be honest about themselves and their past experiences. It also does not guarantee anyone a job.”
Private sector effect
The Daytona Beach policy will apply to city applications only, but private sector businesses and organizations soon may follow with the help of the Main Street Alliance of Florida.
A national network of state-based small business coalitions, the organization works to provide small businesses a voice on the most pressing public policy issues across the nation with a core mission to promote vibrant businesses and healthy communities, and foster leadership development of socially responsible business leaders.
The organization was present during a Volusia County Action Assembly held in March on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University where more than 1,500 Volusia County and neighboring residents in attendance.
The event was organized by local community organization F.A.I.T.H. (Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony), an interfaith community organization that works to identify and address the root causes of social and economic injustices.
Ex felon’s testimony
Alliance leader Paul Heroux is a small business owner who was formerly incarcerated. He told the audience that he started his own business because he was the only one who wouldn’t judge him based on how he answered the question on his applications.
“Checking that box takes away your identity. You are unable to explain who you are and what you can bring to the company before you are deemed unfit for the position,” Paul explained. “Everyone has an idea in their head of who a felon is or what they look like, and it probably doesn’t look like me. ‘Ban the Box’ is a chance for my face to replace the movie gangster the hiring manager pictured when they saw I checked yes.”
Henry acknowledged the passion demonstrated by Volusia County and concurred in a previous statement: “…It’s important to me because it certainly affects a portion of our community that we have to respond to. Oftentimes you miss out on people who are very talented. It’s no better way for a man or woman to redeem themselves besides having work that is worthwhile.”