'Ban the Box' hiring policies: What Syracuse can learn from Hawaii and North Carolina

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Will Syracuse’s new “Ban the Box” ordinance really make a difference in who gets hired by the city and its contractors? Do Ban the Box laws have any effect?
According to two recent studies, the answer is yes.
The Syracuse city council this week voted 8-1 to prohibit the city and its contractors from asking job applicants about their criminal records until late in the hiring process. The idea is to give people with criminal records a fair shot at winning jobs.
Skeptics question whether the Ban the Box rules are merely red tape that will complicate the hiring process without changing the final outcomes. But two recent studies suggest that Ban the Box policies have an effect.
Consider: In the three years since Durham, N.C., adopted a Ban the Box policy, the percentage of new city employees with criminal records has increased from 2 percent in 2011 to more than 15 percent this year, according to a report by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
Or consider this: In Honolulu, the percentage of people accused of felonies who were repeat offenders decreased after Hawaii passed a Ban the Box law in 1998, according to a peer-reviewed academic study published in June in the American Journal of Criminal Justice.
Hawaii’s Ban the Box law helped reduce the number of repeat offenders, most likely by making it easier for ex-convicts to find jobs, according to researchers Stewart D’Alessio, Lisa Stolzenberg and Jamie Flexon, criminal justice professors from Florida International University.
“Our analysis suggests that Hawaii’s ban the box law is on the right track,” they wrote. The researchers cautioned that their study should be replicated in other cities to confirm its validity.
Syracuse’s new ordinance applies to the city and to private companies that provide services under contract to the city. Under the new rules, job applicants cannot be asked whether they have been convicted of crimes until they after have been judged qualified for employment.
The city or a contractor may withdraw a tentative job offer if the applicant’s criminal record indicates that he or she would present a risk to property or to public safety.
Mayor Stephanie Miner has not indicated whether she will sign the ordinance. The legislation passed with 8 votes, two more than would be required to override a veto.
The city and county of Durham, N.C., each adopted administrative policies midway through 2011 to ban the box for prospective employees. That year, 15 of the city’s 668 new employees – or 2.2 percent — had criminal records, according to data provided to Syracuse.com by the city.
Here’s how many new Durham employees had criminal records in subsequent years: 28 of 628 in 2012, or 4.5 percent; 53 of 513 in 2013, or 9.4 percent; and 16 of 103 through June 2014, or 15.5 percent.
City personnel managers have not seen any negative consequences from the new policy, said Amy Blalock, senior public affairs specialist.
Similar results were obtained by Durham County, according to the report by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a Durham group which lobbied for the Ban the Box policy. The county hired 96 applicants who had criminal records in 2013, up from 52 in 2012 and 35 in 2011, the report said.
Syracuse lawyer and Ban the Box supporter Alan Rosenthal, of the Center for Community Alternatives, said until recently he was not aware of any quantitative research on the effects of Ban the Box legislation. But the recent studies are encouraging, he said.
“The answer seems pretty loud and clear that there are positive results to be reaped from this,” he said.
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Ban the Box in Durham, NC by Tim Knauss
This press clipping first appeared on syracuse.com on December 10, 2014.