Wells to Introduce Ban the Box Legislation - Removing Barriers to Employment for Returning Citizens

January 7, 2014

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(Washington, D.C.) - Today Councilmember Tommy Wells, Chairperson of the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, will introduce legislation to "ban the box" - putting an end to the discriminatory practice of employers automatically disqualifying returning citizens solely because of their criminal history. Co-introducing the legislation are Councilmembers Marion Barry, Anita Bonds, Muriel Bowser, Jim Graham, Kenyan McDuffie, Phil Mendelson and Vincent Orange.

Approximately 60,000 District residents have criminal records and 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has a conviction history. Each year, an estimated 8,000 residents return to the District after serving prison sentences and approximately 50 percent are re-incarcerated within three years.

"For far too long, returning citizens have been discriminated against and unreasonably denied jobs for which they are otherwise qualified," said Tommy Wells. "Research shows that returning citizens who find stable employment are significantly less likely to windup back in jail. My legislation will prohibit employers from inquiring about applicants' arrest or conviction records until after a conditional offer of employment has been extended, making it one of the strongest in the country."

The "Fair Criminal Records Screening Amendment Act of 2014" does not require employers to hire people with criminal records, nor does it forbid employers from conducting background checks. It simply delays that inquiry until after an applicant has the opportunity to demonstrate that he or she is otherwise qualified for the position.

Click Here for a copy of Councilmember Wells draft legislation.

Ban the Box is part of a nationwide movement to curb employment discrimination based on unrelated criminal history. More than 10 states and 50 localities - including Newark, Philadelphia and Seattle - have enacted similar legislation.

The District government's own experience with banning the box has had a powerful impact on hiring. Since passing the Public Inclusion Act of 2010, the Office of Human Resources found that 76% of applicants with criminal records were still suitable for government employment, the same applicants, who without this bill, would be automatically disqualified in the private sector.

"On behalf of Returning Citizens United, we commend Councilmember Wells for his steadfastness in regards to resolving discriminatory practices that impact the returning citizens' community," said Debra Rowe, Acting Executive Director of Returning Citizens United, Inc.

"In the fight for fair hiring practices, those who have arrest or conviction records face the steepest hurdles in obtaining jobs. The legislation Councilmember Wells is proposing strikes a careful balance. It allows employers to consider pertinent records, but seeks to minimize the use of broad generalizations to unjustly exclude qualified applicants from the jobs they need in order to reintegrate successfully into the DC community," said Ari Weisbard, Deputy Director of the Employment Justice Center.

"This is great news, housing and employment discrimination is out of control in our society, Councilmember Wells and his staff understand the sign of the times, the time for change," said Courtney Stewart, Chairman of The Reentry Network for Returning Citizens.

"If we want to keep returning citizens out of prison, the most important step we can take is to ensure they can find jobs. Councilmember Wells' Ban The Box bill will help the District of Columbia take that step by ensuring employers consider applicants as individuals with marketable skills and aptitudes, not simply as ex-offenders. When returning citizens find jobs, they earn wages, support their families, pay taxes, and support the District's economic growth. Everyone wins when returning citizens work," said Marina Streznewski, Executive Director of DC Jobs Council.