Wake County’s Vote to Ban the Box Will Make a Safer, More Prosperous Community
New ordinance ensures qualified candidates for public employment aren’t automatically disqualified for criminal convictions
Released by Daniel Bowes and Julia Hawes, ncjustice.org
The Wake County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted August 18, 2016, to adopt “Ban the Box” by adopting a Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance that ensures qualified candidates for public employment are not automatically disqualified by minor, long-ago, or unrelated criminal convictions. Wake County joins communities across NC and the country that have offered bipartisan support for fair chance hiring procedures.
“At the heart of Wake County’s Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance is the idea that while an applicant’s criminal record matters, it shouldn’t be the only thing that matters,” said Daniel Bowes, an attorney with the North Carolina Justice Center. “Wake County Commissioners have crafted and adopted policies and procedures that facilitate an individualized review of each applicant’s suitability for employment.”
In 2016, approximately 1,500 residents of Wake County will be released from prison and return to Wake County, joining more than 150,000 Wake residents with prior criminal justice involvement. These community members are often automatically excluded from gainful employment based on a negative criminal history, regardless of how minor, long-ago, or unrelated the conviction may be to an applicant’s suitability for the job. Rather than enhancing community safety, unnecessary exclusions based on superficially broad criteria deprive individuals—particularly men and women of color—the ability to provide for themselves and their families. This isolation only exacerbates a revolving-door criminal justice system that drains community resources, undermines community safety, and fails those who have paid their debts to society.
Currently, applicants for employment with Wake County Government – one of the county’s largest employers – are asked if they have ever been convicted of any unlawful offense. The new Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance and corresponding Human Resources policies and procedures, which go into effect May 1, 2016, eliminate this question from the initial employment application.
Instead, a background check will be conducted once an applicant has been identified as the most qualified candidate and recommended for hire. The ordinance specifies several factors to be considered once the background check is conducted, including the nature and circumstances of the criminal offense, the age of the individual at the time the offense, the connection between the criminal offense and the specific job position, and evidence of rehabilitation. If a recommendation for employment is withdrawn based on an applicant’s criminal history, the applicant is provided an opportunity to dispute the accuracy of the criminal history and/or provide evidence that the criminal history is not relevant to the specific job position.
“Conducting individualized reviews of job applicants enhances Wake County’s ability to hire the most suitable candidate for each job position and restores employment opportunities for community members striving to move beyond their past mistakes,” Bowes said. “This will make Wake County a safer and more prosperous community as well as a model for other counties and municipalities, private employers, and the State of North Carolina.”
Wake County is a central-North Carolina county with a population exceeding one million. The county seat is the city of Raleigh.