Group trying to eliminate criminal history question on job applications

Group trying to eliminate criminal history question on job applications
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)
J.C. Smith while doing one of his heating and a/c jobs.(Source: WAFB)
J.C. Smith while doing one of his heating and a/c jobs.(Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Baton Rouge group will meet with city officials in hopes of making a change to job applications. A small change they say that could help in big ways, but others say could lead to big trouble.

J.C. Smith works on heating and air conditioning systems. He mainly works on his own because he said most companies won't give him a real chance at employment after he checks the box on the application that asks about any criminal histories.

"I'm not afraid of getting turned down. I've gotten quite use to it," Smith said laughingly. "Even the people who want to hire me, before they even know my background, I let them know."

25 years ago, the then 26-year-old Smith was dating a girl who was 17, which was considered underage in Texas at the time. Smith said the girlfriend's parents warned him to stay away, but he continued seeing the girl and was eventually charged and convicted of statutory rape.

After serving time in Texas, Smith moved to Louisiana, but his criminal history followed him making it difficult for him to get a job.

The Director of the Capital Area Reentry Coalition, James Windom, works to help convicts become productive citizens again.

Windom is trying to convince Baton Rouge city leaders to "ban the box." Ban the Box is a nationwide effort to eliminate the criminal history portion of an application where a person is asked to check certain boxes relating to their criminal histories.

"They fill out the application, fill that box in that says have you ever been convicted and immediately and unfortunately nothing ever happens after that," Windom said.

Ban the Box initiatives have succeed in some parts of the country and failed in others. The specific language varies, but usually allows employers the ability to question a potential hire's past, just not on the application.

"All we're asking is the conversation shouldn't come up until the interview. When you have that person before you, when you've looked at that resume and you've look at that application and you're seeing a qualified person for this position at that point then you can ask if there are some things that need to be addressed," Windom said.

Dawn Starns represents Louisiana businesses through the Federation of Independent Businesses and helped defeat a similar movement at the state level.

"At the end of the day, the government doesn't have the right to go in and tell a business owner how they should ask questions based on the small private business they are running," Starns said. "Our members need the flexibility to make the right hires based on their situation and taking away that information on the front end really removes them from having the whole picture."

Starns said she is not as worried about people like Smith, who seemed to have turned their lives around, but others who could slip through the cracks and cause trouble down the road. Trouble that a bushiness owner could be liable for.

Smith said ultimately he is torn on the issue and understands the business owners' concerns.

"We have to rehabilitate ourselves and they don't know if we are or not- so when we get out, we try to sell it to them as best we can but some guys never get it right."

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