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Va.: Richmond Gives Leg Up to Job-Seeking Ex-offenders

By Rita Zeidner  4/18/2014
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The Richmond City Council passed an ordinance requiring the city to remove questions from job applications that ask job seekers if they have prior felony convictions.

The new policy, approved unanimously March 25, 2014, is intended to prevent job candidates with a criminal background from being automatically excluded from certain city jobs.

Private employers are not affected by the measure.

Over the past nine years, dozens of local jurisdictions have passed similar “ban the box” provisions, named after the box on applications that job seekers with criminal records must check. Such laws don’t require employers to hire people with criminal convictions or prohibit background checks; they just delay when an employer may ask if an employee has been convicted of a felony.

Richard Walker, a former teacher who had difficulty finding work after serving 14 months in prison on a cocaine possession conviction, called the Richmond vote a victory.

“If someone looked at my application and saw I had a criminal conviction, that was the end of it,” said Walker, who went on to found Bridging the Gap, a Richmond nonprofit that serves ex-offenders, veterans and at-risk youth, in part because he had such a hard time finding a job and a place to live.

Although he eventually found work selling cars, most employers “wouldn’t even give me the courtesy of a call back,” he said.

Some city positions are exempt from the ban the box provision. They include public safety jobs such as police and firefighters, positions with financial responsibilities and those that require work with children and confidential documents.

Outside of Richmond, a few jurisdictions are coupling their ban the box policies with employer protections. In July 2014, Rhode Island will begin offering a “certificate of recovery and re-entry” to help show employers that certain individuals with a criminal background have been rehabilitated. Individuals generally are eligible for a certificate, issued by the state prison system, one year after a misdemeanor conviction and three years after a non-violent felony conviction.

Rita Zeidner is a freelance business writer and former senior writer for HR Magazine.

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