Local Hiring Policies Facilitate Reentry of People with Criminal Records

Article excerpt

Each year, more than 725,000 people reenter their communities from prison, with a disproportionate number returning to cities. Moreover, an estimated one in three Americans have arrest or conviction records that pose barriers to employment, even when those records reflect minor offenses committed many years ago. In response, municipal leaders have established innovative local hiring policies that enable these individuals to find work, live within the law and give back to their communities.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) and NLC's Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) highlight these local models in a new strategy guide made possible by support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, entitled "Cities Pave the Way: Promising Reentry Policies that Promote Local Hiring of People with Criminal Records."

More Cities "Ban the Box"

The guide highlights an emerging trend in which cities "ban the box" that asks about an individual's criminal record on city job applications (see Nation's Cities Weekly, May 22, 2006). Twenty-three cities and counties--from Norwich, Conn., and Worcester, Mass., to Austin, Texas, and Alameda County, Calif.--have now implemented ban-the-box policies, deferring criminal background checks to the end of the hiring process and creating a level playing field for all job applicants. In the past year, three states--Connecticut, Minnesota and New Mexico--have adopted similar policies that apply to state employment.

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In addition to encouraging people with criminal records to apply for city jobs and broadening the pool of potentially qualified applicants, ban-the-box policies save cities money and personnel time by requiring criminal background checks only for those applicants who reach the final stages of the hiring process rather than for all job applicants. These policies do not alter the hiring process for jobs such as law enforcement for which criminal background checks are required by law.

Innovative Hiring Incentives

The guide also features a range of other hiring strategies to encourage employment of people with criminal records, such as:

* Ensuring compliance with and expanding upon federal civil rights standards that regulate local hiring practices;

* Using first-source hiring policies, project labor agreements and community benefits agreements to target city development jobs toward people with criminal records;

* Expanding bid incentive programs to promote local hiring priorities through government contracts; and

* Providing financial incentives (e.g., tax credits, bonding programs) for private employers who hire residents with criminal records.

For instance, the cities of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, Mich. …