It is a four-millimeter checkbox stationed next to a simple question — “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” — that some city officials say prevents released prisoners from successfully reintegrating into society.
“The problem with the felony box is that it is an endbox around the law,” Community Services Administration consultant Deborah Marcuse ’97 LAW ’08 said in an interview Monday. “It discriminates unfairly against formerly incarcerated persons who don’t know their economic rights.”
The CSA, with the support of Mayor John DeStefano Jr., will introduce new legislation in Monday’s Board of Aldermen meeting called “Ban the Box,” which the CSA say will provide greater employment opportunities to the city’s prison reentry population. If the bill passes, the city government (and government-employed vendors) will no longer ask about a potential employee’s criminal background in the first stage of the application process.
Such an initiative already exists in San Francisco, Boston and Chicago, where city positions are first offered to applicants before employers conduct a criminal background check. If the applicant possesses a criminal record, city officials determine whether the past offense would affect the applicant’s ability to fulfill their job. Past offenders are automatically barred only from positions as schoolteachers and as sworn officials, such as policemen.
City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said the initiative is meant to rehabilitate ex-convicts and prevent them from committing crimes in the city again.
“If nobody will employ them, many times they will revert to criminal behavior,” Mayorga said.
New Haven is currently one of four cities in Connecticut considering the “Ban the Box” initiative — similar prospective legislation has also been introduced in Hartford, Bridgeport and Norwich, Marcuse said. Most cities nationwide involved with the “Ban the box” initiative are pushing legislation that only covers applications for city positions, not positions offered by private vendors contracted by the city. New Haven’s proposed legislation would cover applications for both city positions and city-employed vendors. Though the city’s initiative is more sweeping than most, it does not encompass applications for private businesses around the city. Mayorga said the city’s legislation will not go further than city vendors, at least for now.
“We’re starting it by setting the example ourselves,” Mayorga said.
Though the Department of Correction employs a variety of programs in order to reduce prisoner recidivism, DOC Spokesman Brian Garnett said the department takes no official position on the “Ban the Box” program, deciding instead to leave it to local legislative bodies to decide whether the measure is appropriate for the city.
After the “Ban the Box” legislation is introduced to the Board of Aldermen and assigned to an aldermanic committee, Marcuse and Community Services Administrator Kica Matos will answer questions about the issue at a public hearing slated to occur in January.