City encourages employers to ‘Ban the Box’

City encourages employers to ‘Ban the Box’
November 16
05:00 2017

The Winston-Salem City Council will vote Monday, Nov. 20, on a resolution encouraging businesses to “Ban the Box” about criminal records on their job applications.

The resolution also reaffirms the city’s longtime commitment to not ask about criminal records on job applications and encourages staff to find ways to enhance second chance employment opportunities for citizens returning from incarceration.

“Ban the Box” began as a grassroots movement in San Francisco and Boston to remove the criminal record question from job applications. Winston-Salem is one of more than 150 local jurisdictions nationwide that adopted the policy. Applicants can still be screened for a criminal record, but not asking them up front allows for that to happen during an interview process.

The measure was forwarded to the full council during a Public Safety Committee meeting this week. City Council Member John Larson said ‘Ban the Box’ encourages employers “not to pre-judge individuals with a rubber stamp.”

“‘Ban the Box’ essentially opens the door for additional entry into an application process,” said Larson. “There is still a process of background checks on all employees for the city, but what this allows us to do is have that face-to-face encounter and create an environment that starts off with a valid conversation with potential employees.”

“Ban the Box” has been supported by numerous local organizations like the Winston-Salem Urban League and the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce. It was recommended by the Mayor’s Poverty Thought Force as one way to help reduce poverty through employment opportunities. The Thought Force recommended holding forums and widely targeted public service announcements to encourage a wider adoption of the policy.

The city has actively worked to help citizens returning from incarceration with its S.O.A.R (Successful Outcomes After Release) program, which tries to reduce recidivism with annual grants to local organizations that assist returning citizens. It also supplies funds for the city to directly hire between 8 and 16 returning citizens a year in temporary capacities. More than three dozen citizens have been offered opportunities for gainful employment because of the program with most of them securing full-time employment with the city or another employer.

Mayor Pro Temp Vivian Burke praised the commitment of the city and City Council Member James Taylor, who is also The Chronicle’s publisher, on the issue.

“If we expect businesses to do and work with people, we must be an example,” she said.

Several citizens attended the meeting to show support for the measure. Lisa Sykes said she represented a group of about 100 people from different congregations, non-profits and civic organizations organized by Knollwood Baptist Church who believe in giving returning citizens a second chance.

“The United States has a lot of people in prison, a lot more than other countries, and, when they get out they have a hard time finding work, so it’s important for us to be able to help,” said Sykes, who added that the issue disproportionately impacts black men.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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