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Beyond Borders

Gareth Evans, about 6 years ago

Instead of simply deciding that someone is not worthy of a chance to prove themselves, wouldn't it be better to reserve judgment until they demonstrate what they can do? Stigma can remain long after a judge has passed a sentence, and long after a sentence has finished. What is more, this stigma can stop people desisting from committing further crimes.

When employers consider qualifications first, more New Yorkers go to work. That makes businesses strong and powers our economy. - New York City Commission

In New York City, efforts have been made to limit the lasting stain of a criminal record and it is illegal for most employers to ask about criminal convictions before they make a job offer. The Fair Chance Act (Article 23A) makes it mandatory to remove from a recruitment any questions of criminal convictions from the advertisement, application or interview. Not only does this legislation allow more people with a criminal record to get a job, it also means more try to get a job. People are not daunted by the prospect of applying for a position, in fear of being humiliated or judged. The benefits for businesses in the city are huge too. Employers do not restrict their talent pool for hiring, with time-consuming background checks on every applicant now a thing of the past.

The legislation does not inhibit the opportunity to hire with an intelligence around concerns. The applicant can still be checked, but only after a conditional offer has been made and the reasons -accompanied by the background information yielded from a search - must be submitted to the NYC Commission on Human Rights. There is a process by which revoking the offer of employment involves an extended conversation with the candidate so, as is often the case, background checks which have uncovered inaccurate or out-dated information can be reviewed and refuted.

The Act itself is borne out of a national campaign by the Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and its “All of Us or None" grassroots civil and human rights organisation which fights 'for the rights of formerly- and currently- incarcerated people and our families…against the discrimination that people face every day because of arrest or conviction history'.

“About nine percent of Americans – roughly 20 million people -- have a felony conviction in the United States. Unfortunately, current practice ensures that the 18-year-old who makes a mistake will not only pay for his crime through the justice system, but will continue to be punished for the rest of his life, as he or she is disqualified out-of-hand from consideration for federal employment opportunities, even when qualified for the position. The message we inadvertently end up sending is that those who commit a crime will never be given a second chance."- Republican Congressman Darrell Issa

The stress is on the potential employer to highlight why a person should not be hired in reference to their conviction history. This means that HR processes are focused entirely on whether someone is qualified, experienced and if they have the right attitude for the position. Candidates are judged on merit and ability, businesses hire people capable of completing what a firm needs and the community sees an overwhelming increase in employed, focused and positive ex-offenders, unlikely to reoffend.