Toledo’s two mayoral candidates took similar positions Monday on the so-called “ban the box” proposal up for a vote today by the Lucas County commissioners.
In an effort to encourage former felons to apply for work, the commissioners said Monday they will delete the box on the county employment application indicating whether the applicant has been convicted of a felony.
Mayor Mike Bell and Councilman D. Michael Collins agreed the box should be eliminated from the county’s employment applications.
Both are political independents and are on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Mr. Bell said, “Yes, it’s a good idea.”
“Once people have paid their debts to society, they need to figure out where they go from there. It’s important to get them back in the system,” Mr. Bell said. “I’m very much in favor of figuring out how to get these individuals re-introduced to the job market.”
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He commented after a 90-minute roundtable discussion about how to integrate former offenders back into society.
“If you don’t get a job, you’re going to do something,” the mayor said. He said he didn’t know if Toledo requires job applications to acknowledge a felony conviction.
Mr. Collins said he supports the commissioners’ move, but also sees expungement of criminal records as a viable way for people to make themselves more employable.
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Expungement removes a criminal conviction and punishment from court records, and is an option for many offenders, though not all. According to Lucas County Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter, 147 expungement requests were filed so far this year, and 104 were granted.
“I would strongly encourage those who seek public sector employment to follow the procedures in the statutes of Ohio and seek expungement,” Mr. Collins said.
“Banning the box is not a barrier to the employer determining whether the individual has a history that would preclude the individual from specific areas of employment,” Mr. Collins said.
Several other elected officials joined the county commissioners at the news conference announcing the initiative. They included Mr. Quilter, Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, Lucas County Recorder Phil Copeland, and a representative of Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez.
Also present were Paula Hicks-Hudson, president of Toledo City Council; Ray Wood, president of the Toledo branch of the NAACP; the Rev. Donald L. Perryman of United Pastors for Social Empowerment, and Bill Dudley, director of Legislative and Strategic Campaigns, UFCW Local 75.
Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates was out of town, but said she agrees with the proposal because officials still have the ability to refuse a job offer in cases where a felony conviction might be relevant, such as for a prosecutor or a deputy sheriff.
She said some people might be too embarrassed to disclose a conviction that they long ago put behind them, such as a youthful drug offense, even if it would not prevent them from getting a job.
“It’s probably a positive thing if you want to help people get employed,” Ms. Bates said.
Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said there is a national campaign to delete the check box on employment applications to remove barriers to workers with criminal records who are seeking employment.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued formal advice in 2012 recommending as a “best practice” that employers not ask about convictions on job applications and that, if and when they make such inquiries, the inquiries be limited to convictions that are specifically related to the job up for consideration.
Mr. Gerken said an estimated 65 million Americans — or one in four adults — have a criminal record that may show up on a routine background check.
A spokesman for the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce said the chamber does not have a position on the issue.
Mayor Bell and representatives from Goodwill of Northwest Ohio and the Ridge Project hosted a discussion Monday on a related issue, “Second Chance Hiring,” at Goodwill in downtown Toledo.
The mayor said it is “extremely important” to give people a second chance after leaving prison.
“People should not be punished for the rest of their lives for the mistakes they made early on,” Mayor Bell said. “As mayor, I take this issue extremely important. ... We have to be able to treat the whole body of our population.”
The city and Lucas County funded two “re-entry coordinator” positions with the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
Demi Heiks, one of the re-entry coordinator program officers, said removing barriers for ex-convicts to find work greatly reduces recidivism.
Ron Tijerina, founder of the Ridge Project of McClure, Ohio, which operates a number of programs including job training programs for prison inmates and low-income adults, said the “ban the box” legislation was the right move for the county.
Tijerina was released from prison in 2006 after serving 15 years for a rape he said he did not commit.
Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this story.