In an effort to help those with criminal records be considered for work, President Obama is directing federal agencies to no longer automatically screen out an applicant who’s had trouble with the law. In other words, ban the box that asks someone to check “yes” if they have a criminal record.
The president’s directive is for federal agencies. The state of Georgia is already “banning the box” in terms of jobs at state agencies. Governor Nathan Deal issued a directive last February, also in an effort to help those with a record score more job interviews.
In Savannah, some students at the Chatham Apprentice Program are fighting this issue, according to Isaac Phelps who manages the program. “”With the governor and president banning the box, it gives more of our program applicants the opportunity to compete and be competitive,” said Phelps.
He says about one third of all participants in the program have a record. Sometimes, it may be for drug offenses, etc. “Everybody wants a job and it’s challenging with them knowing there is something on their background that they will have to explain,” said Phelps.
But the point is he says is that many applicants don’t even get to the point where they have to explain their past. Phelps says they are simply “screened out” of the screening process after checking that box.
“So moving or banning the box is something great that’s definitely going to help the people in our community and give a lot of people opportunities to kind of move forward,” he said.
Advocates say they’re not suggesting that employers can’t be concerned about an applicant’s past or consider that as part of the criteria for hiring. Yet they say qualified applicants are not even being allowed in the interview process. They want employers to be consider qualifications along with background.
In addition to the the federal and state polices, the city of Savannah has banned the box in city jobs. But those polices still don’t affect private employers, which provide most jobs in most communities. Yet Felton hopes there can be more a of a conversation now with them. “One thing I’ve noticed is people who have background issues, they know they’re only given one chance so they really, they work hard and do what they need to do in order to move forward,” said Phelps. “So I think some of the private employers should look into it and just kind of give people a second chance.”