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Council to weigh ‘Ban the Box’ bill

Council may vote today on removing criminal history from start of hiring process. Supporters say ex-offenders would get a fair chance. Foes suggest anti-discrimination lawsuits could result.

Ever since a drunk driving arrest in 2002, Rodney Byrd has been trying to get employers to judge him on his qualifications of working more than 15 years in the healthcare industry. “It’s like I try to seek employment and I get online and fill out application and they ask ‘Have you ever been arrested’ and I gotta tell the truth,” the 55-year-old said. That's a mark against you.”

Byrd and thousands of ex-offenders in Philadelphia are hoping that mark will be removed or at least covered today. City Council is expected to vote on a bill referred to as “Ban the Box,” referring to the box on job applications asking whether a person has ever been convicted of a crime.

Employers would be prohibited from asking about an applicant's criminal history until after the first interview unless otherwise required by state or federal law, such as those which mandate background checks like law-enforcement and child-care. Not only would the ban apply to public employers, but Philadelphia would become the first city in the U.S. to include private employers following the lead of Hawaii and Massachusetts.

Devah Pager, a sociology professor at Princeton University, said the chances of getting hired are much better for ex-offenders when they can make an impression. “If an individual can present themselves ... before that stigma entirely colors their perception, they have a better chance to put that conviction in context,” she said.

 
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