Category Archives: ban the box

Mixed Messages

Deciphering the President’s Take on Criminal Justice Reform

President Trump brought criminal justice reform to the forefront of the political debate with his State of the Union address. In a startling turn for the president, who campaigned as a hardline law and order advocate, President Trump voiced support for measures tackling recidivism and the lingering effects of incarceration, stating: “…this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.” 

The president managed the considerable feat of appealing to both sides of the debate, and that’s what makes me nervous.

Most Americans want comprehensive criminal justice reform. Washington seems to prefer gridlock. The phrase “war on crime” has been used by presidents since Lyndon Johnson, and despite billions of dollars spent and new policies and laws enacted, the incarceration crisis has not improved, so forgive any skepticism with the latest rant.

As a candidate and a private citizen, Mr. Trump made his pro-police, tough on crime stance clearly known. In the past, he has blasted “forgiving” judges who “…emphasize criminals’ rights over those of ordinary citizens.” In fact, the clearest message we can glean from the president’s statements is that he sees America as divided—there are police and ordinary citizens, and there are criminals.

This is just the kind of binary thinking that leads to failed policies like mandatory minimum sentences.

This is just the kind of thinking that allows racial animosity to grow.

This is just the kind of thinking that leads law enforcement officers to believe that they are above the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve.

Has there been a change of heart? Does President Trump truly want released inmates to flourish and succeed while walking the line?

It’s possible, but guarded optimism seems the right approach. After all, in the same speech, he called for getting tougher on drug dealers—just rhetoric, right?

Well, under his administration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges and strictest sentences possible in drug cases. This new policy forces prosecutors to request an exception from a superior before going after lesser charges for lower-level crimes, creating de facto minimum sentencing and taking autonomy away from federal attorneys.

Meaningful justice system reform is going to take a lot of work. Balancing a tough on crime approach with empathy and concern for the struggles of former inmates is a tall order, but it is possible.

As far as the president’s sincerity regarding second chances goes, we can hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and keep working to promote significant change.

Richard Milaschewski
2nd Chance University
http://www.2ndChanceUniversity.org

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Hiring on the Square? Beware: EEOC IS Watching

On April 25, 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), by a four to one vote, enacted regulations that directly affect company hiring policies and practices. Hiring managers not in the know or playing on a discriminatory field, you best listen up. For individuals with an arrest or conviction, the following information and tools are dedicated to you.

As of recent, companies instituting a “blanket ban” elimination policy that targets potential employees who happen to have an arrest or conviction in their background, those days of instant slicing are numbered.

Fact: New EEOC regulations no longer allow companies to automatically eliminate candidates on the basis of an arrest.

This single act affects an estimated 65 million United States adults (not to mention their families) who are saddled by a criminal record. Before getting overly emotional (as the pendulum swings), companies still make their own decisions when it comes to hiring. When it comes to considering ex-felons, company policy and agents must now consider business necessity.

Fairly easy to follow and defined by the EEOC, employers are obligated to examine three factors in making an employment decision:

1.  The nature and gravity of the offense
2.  The time that has passed since the conviction and/or sentenced completion
3.  The nature of the job held or sought

For individuals with a career barrier, these new rulings are aimed to give you an opportunity to explain a report of criminal activity before being rejected. Knowing identity and information errors occur, an opportunity to explain could resolve hesitation before it gets out of control.

Wondering if there is bite to the EEOC bark? Ask Pepsi Co. Due to discriminatory hiring practices, Pepsi Co. recently settled litigation and agreed to pay 300 African American males a total of $3.13 million.

By way of specifics, Pepsi’s old policy screened out applicants who had been arrested but never convicted, applicants convicted for minor offenses, and applicants convicted decades earlier. The EEOC found that Pepsi’s policy violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits any form of employment discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, and other protected categories.

The EEOC based its finding of a Title VII violation on the fact that African Americans are more likely to be barred by Pepsi’s old policy than other demographic groups. According to the FBI’s annual crime report, African Americans represent 28.3 percent of all arrests in the United States—yet only 12.9 percent of the U.S. population.

By way of summary, highlights of the EEOC’s new criminal record guidance is as follows:

  • Firing existing employees with no performance or safety issues because a new employer taking over a business learns of a record when conducting background checks of the workforce;
  • The three “business necessity” factors (age of the offense, seriousness of the offense, and the relationship to the job) contained in the EEOC’s 1987 convictions policy;
  • On line applications that kick people out when they indicate that they have a criminal record are no longer an acceptable hiring practice;
  • The conclusion that across-the-board exclusions usually violate Title VII; and
  • The prohibition against considering arrests that have not led to convictions

Does this mean companies must hire individuals possessing an arrest or conviction? Title VII does not regulate the acquisition of criminal history information. However, another federal law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. (FCRA), does establish several procedures for employers to follow when they obtain criminal history information from third-party consumer reporting agencies.

Let’s review the landscape by detailing a few statistics as to why this ruling is significant:

  • One in 29 adults between the ages of 20 and 34 in the U.S. is behind bars, for black males in that age group the figure jumps to 1 in 9
  • Nationwide, 13 percent of black men have lost the right to vote, a rate that is seven times the national average
  • One in every 99 U.S. adults are behind bars
  • Fifty percent of all ex-offenders are unemployed
  • The U.S. prison population is currently 2.3 million individuals
  • 1 in 35 citizens have been arrested, convicted, and/or imprisoned

Making fair employment decisions based upon a candidate’s knowledge, skills, and abilities just lost an elimination loophole.

Heed the EEOC warning: Companies not on the square and relying on a blanket ban to discriminate against qualified ex-felons may find themselves with more than a slap on the hand.

On a professional note, I recently conducted workshops at two national conferences (NACE and APSCU) where we discussed “guiding students with career barriers.” Few career directors in the audience were aware of the EEOC changes, which was surprising. Fortunately many at the conference have been empowered by knowledge and are better equipped to inform and assist companies to modify their hiring procedures.

For those not in attendance, ignorance of EEOC regulations is not a defense.

Individuals with an arrest or criminal background, there is hope as well as many resources you can use to better equip and sell yourself as well as enhance the chances of gaining and succeeding in an interview. One such tool is found through a “letter of explanation.”

A letter of explanation is a single-page account defining the circumstances surrounding a specific incident. This powerful asset (when written properly) desensitizes interviewer objections by outlining personal/professional growth. For more information on this topic and our career-barrier focused booklet designed to assist ex-felons gain employment as well as information regarding our diverse career courseware library dedicated to career success, visit www.edu-cs.com or go to Amazon (search Danny at ECS).

Danny Hufman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
www.educationcareerservices.com
Got Twitter? Shadow me @dannyatecs

BAN the BOX: EEOC in Action

During a recent showcase/job fair, I had the pleasure of meeting K-Duck who was released from prison nine years ago. He was convicted for possession of three ounces of marijuana. Needless to say, his one mistake as a teenager has been a haunting presence on every step.

K-Duck asked about the best way to deal with the employment application question: Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.

No doubt, honesty is the best bet, even if it lessens the odds of getting hired. With this, I quickly remembered what former President George W. Bush said: “America is the land of the second chance – and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”

Could America be the land of second chances and forgiveness?

When it comes to individuals who have been arrested and/or convicted, the rubber does not meet the road as former President Bush passively blew hot air toward the general masses. Ando how we all breathed it in.

Given the unequal ratio between the races, all talk and no walk leads to frustration and eventual revolution. Then again, it appears most of America leans heavily on social inebriation and an “I don’t give a flying ____” attitude when it comes to giving chances to those who have slipped and now need help. Consider the alternative: 50% of those released remain unemployed and a result that half return to prison within three years. Think this has something to do with the lack of support on all ends?

Is this the America, the land of second chance, President Bush was referring to?

Employers legally discriminate by using “The Box” employment application question. According to a 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resources Management, 92 percent of employers conduct criminal background checks on some or all job applicants, up from 51 percent in 1996 and more than two-thirds of states allow hiring and professional-licensing decisions to be made on the basis of an arrest alone.

This is worth a repeat, arrests can be used to deny professional licensing.

K-Duck, and the millions like him, will continue to struggle unless legal and societal change happens. Fortunately, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently (last week) issued an updated guidance on employers’ use of arrest and conviction records when making employment decisions. For those not knowing what “The Box” represents, here’s the scoop: it is a hiring policy used to exclude anyone (and everyone) without contest. In this case, the blanket hiring ban targets those with an arrest/conviction.

Why would the EEOC get involved and tell employers who they can or cannot hire? Boiling it down to a single factor, “The Box” violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by actively banning minorities. Then again, don’t take my word for it, let’s get a few facts on the table:

  • An estimated 65 million United States Adults have criminal records
  • One in 29 adults in the United States was either incarcerated or on probation or parole
  • While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, for black males in that age group, the figure is one in nine

    According the latest EEOC statistics, 1 in 17 white men are expected to serve time in prison during their lifetime, compared with 1 in si6x Hispanic men, and 1 in 3 African-American men. Going one step further, banning based upon an arrest effects minorities disproportionately… fair or not, the truth is the truth.

    Bottom line: the EEOC recommends that employers should not disqualify a candidate because of an arrest or conviction. Employers still are within their right to perform background checks but they should consider the “nature of the crime, the time elapsed, and the nature of the job” when making a hiring decision. Kudos to putting pressure… now it’s our turn to level the employment field.

    Think one voice can’t change the world? Think again, the EEOC recently settled with Pepsi over their use of a blanket exclusion policy and is currently investigating more than 100 claims of job discrimination based on criminal background checks.

    Fair or not, those individuals who have slipped and are planning to secure a job, know that getting beyond a blanket ban will be difficult. But it can be done. Think about the company and the many values you bring. Recognize that employers are looking for candidates who can get the job done and those who can be trusted. Being loyal, committed to company goals, and going above job responsibilities will push you toward career advancement.

    First step is to develop material that portrays your skills, knowledge, and abilities as an asset. There are effective ways to present you well, even under challenging circumstances. We will review some of these methods but would like your know about your challenges and how best to overcome the blocks standing in the way.

    Going back to K-Duck’s question about what to do: don’t mislead any potential employer. If you feel you have been a victim of discrimination, document and take your concerns to the proper authorities. Your voice can be heard and can make a huge difference not only for you but for millions in the shadow.

    If you have questions and would like career-related insight or books including, “Overcoming Career Barriers: Mission Possible, visit our website (www.edu-cs.com) or go to Amazon (simply search Danny at ECS).

    For additional assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out and send your request through the comment section or email me directly at dhuffman@edu-cs.com.

    Danny Hufman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
    www.educationcareerservices.com
    Got Twitter? Shadow me @dannyatecs

Career Breakout: Employment after Arrest

The issue of career placement for those with barriers is not going to go away. Consider that these past four decades have created an American working age population that includes up to 14 million people with felony records—about one in every fifteen between the age of 18 and 64.

Not too long ago I attended a “Showcase for Ex-Felons” in St. Petersburg. During the day’s event, I had the opportunity to discuss and coach quite of few capable professionals who happen to have made a mistake and are paying for that mistake eternally. After five hours of face-to-face, a common theme threaded each candidate:

“No one is willing  to give me a chance. What can I do?

Much like in all elements in life, gaining employment comes down to risk versus benefit.

For an individual with a career barrier, finding, securing, and retaining employment could mean the difference between recidivism and freedom. Fair or not, understanding and taking a proactive approach means recognizing many companies discriminate against those who have made mistakes. An obvious example can be found on most job applications in the form of the “check the box if you have been arrested.”

In today’s tight employment market, employers often refuse second looks once the “box” has been checked. Though “ban the box” campaigns are pushing forward, only a few states (not Florida) have adopted the policy. If you are asked to complete an application with this question, honesty is always the best policy… being dishonest on a job application is cause for immediate termination. Though a catch 22 exists, the path taken should be the honest one.

Career tip #1: Overcoming a barrier can be a true test of your career skills, but success can be found if the tools of the trade are not compromised.

Much like all job seekers, conducting extensive company research, preparing to respond to the most difficult interview questions (oftentimes revolving around your arrest), and building the most effective skills-based resume and cover letter available. And yes, there are tools and methods used which will highlight your strengths. For instance, prior to launching your career search, create a well-written letter of explanation… details and samples are provided in our Overcoming Career Barriers: Mission Possible” guidebook highlighted shortly.

Without knowing your specific background and your situation, general rules of engagement should be followed:

The first step is to reboot your perception as other’s see you. As a company owner, I know there are benefits of hiring an individual with a humbling experience; enhanced appreciation for the opportunity as well as a more dedicated, loyal, and productive attitude over those without a blemished background—relaying these elements to a potential employer quickly lessens risk.

Career tip #2: If you offer limited experience and education, the task is not going to be easy; resolve will be found by tapping into the many transferrable skills you have gained over the years.

Second step guiding success: There is no time to become discouraged though closed door after closed door can be difficult to face daily.

There are many steps in the process and we will touch upon each as time allows. For now, let’s work on developing a letter of explanation and rebooting other’s perception and that begins by dressing and behaving professionally… anything less is not acceptable.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, incarcerating its residents at a rate 4 to 7 times higher than other industrialized nations… we could go on and on but talk means nothing without action.

Education Career Services, pens and publishes career development textbooks and single target booklets. Our “Overcoming Career Barriers: Mission Possible” single topic guidebook offers 80 pages of hard hitting truths, activities, samples, and proven strategies to improve your career station. If interested in this or any career collateral, go to our products page on our website (www.edu-cs.com), or go to Amazon (simply search Danny at ECS).

If you would like additional information or assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out and send your request through the comment section or email me directly at dhuffman@edu-cs.com).

Danny Hufman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
www.educationcareerservices.com
Got Twitter? Shadow me @dannyatecs