Written by David Greenwald Tuesday, 26 June 2012 06:37
Sponsor Argues State Can Reduce Recidivism by Removing Checkbox on Past Criminal Background from Job Applications
Court mandated decreases to the prison population operationalized through AB 109 have led to a renewed focus on reducing California's astronomically high recidivism rate. One way that public officials are seeking to reduce recidivism is through efforts to ensure that individuals who have served their time get a fair opportunity to get a job.
AB 1831, sponsored by Assemblymember Roger Dickinson who represents Sacramento in the Assembly, seeks to remove the check box from the employment application that denotes that the applicant has had an arrest or conviction record.
This would "delay the consideration of an applicant's criminal history until after the agency has determined the applicant's qualifications meet the requirements for the job position."
Assemblymember Roger Dickinson sees this as a way to work with the AB 109 efforts to reduce recidivism.
"It's all part of the same efforts to try to reduce the horrendous recidivism rate we've got in the state of 70%," Assemblymember Dickinson said.
According to the bill analysis, "An estimated one in four adult Californians has an arrest or conviction record on file with the state, creating major, unnecessary employment barriers. Otherwise qualified individuals are often discouraged from applying for work in the public and private sectors because of a conviction history inquiry on the application."
""Realignment" (AB 109) of California's criminal justice system seeks to produce budgetary savings by reducing recidivism and promoting rehabilitation," the analysis argues. "Employment of eligible people with a conviction history is key to the success of realignment at the local level, as studies have shown that stable employment significantly lowers recidivism and promotes public safety."
Bill Sponsor Assemblymember Roger Dickinson told the Vanguard on Monday that the legislation would prohibit a city or county from asking about criminal history on a job application unless the position itself is in law enforcement or otherwise requires a state background check - such as positions that require working with kids.
However, the legislation would only impact the information on the initial application. Nothing would prevent the hiring agency from conducting a background check at a later point.
"They could not ask initially, but then if the person got through the initial review of the application, they could subsequently ask about criminal history," Assemblymember Dickinson said. "They could always do a background check if they wanted to do that."
One of the questions that arises is how big an advantage it would be to an applicant to have that aspect of the law changed.
"What seems to happen a lot is that people who apply for jobs don't even get any consideration if they indicate they've got some criminal history, they just automatically get discarded as potential applicants," the Assemblymember said. "The advantage here is that at least people would be able to get a foot in the door. They would be evaluated on their qualifications separate and apart from any criminal history. That way they have at least a chance to be looked at as someone who would be worthy of the job for which their applying rather than just summarily dismissed as a possibility."
The proposed law might seem like a relatively small and almost innocuous change over existing laws. Assemblymember Dickinson pointed out that it is already in effect at the state level under an executive order signed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
However, the bill has run into some significant opposition. Cities and counties have opposed this on the basis that they do not want the state to dictate how they conduct their job application process.
One of those opposing the bill is Senator Lois Wolk, who Chairs the Senate Government and Finance Committee which will hear this bill on Wednesday.
The Vanguard attempted to speak with the senator to understand her concerns about this bill, but unfortunately her spokesperson informed the Vanguard that the senator's schedule was impacted with committee hearings and critical votes.
The Senate Consultant's analysis of the bill does not necessarily reflect the views of Senator Wolk.
The consultant notes that the bill "bill neither prevents a local government from determining an applicant's criminal history before making a job offer nor requires any local government to hire someone with a criminal history" and it protects a number of positions from the scope of the bill.
Nevertheless, the analysis argues, "In addition to jobs that require background checks, many other positions in local government shouldn't be held by a person with a criminal history."
They note jobs such as building inspectors, code enforcement, records clerks and public utility workers.
They argue, "Unlike the policy that applies to state hiring decisions, AB 1831 doesn't let cities and counties make their own decisions about which job openings should be exempt from the ban on criminal history inquiries during the initial job application screening process. As a result, AB 1831 may force counties and cities to waste administrative resources screening initial applications that will almost certainly be rejected once an applicant's criminal history is disclosed."
The analysis also notes that it applies only to counties and cities but not to more than 3000 special districts in California.
It also questions whether the law could apply to charter cities that all cities control their own municipal affairs.
The California Police Chiefs Association, in opposing the bill writes, "There are entire classes of employees whose criminal history could cause public harm: building inspectors, code enforcement officers, records clerks, public utility workers occupy positions of public trust and the citizens of a jurisdiction are ill-served if the persons occupying those positions have the types of criminal records that could endanger the public."
They are joined in opposition by CSAC (California State Association of Counties), the California District Attorneys Association, the California State Sheriffs' Association, the Chief Probation Officers of California, the Rural County Representatives of California and the League of California Cities.
The League of California Cities supports an amendment. In May they wrote, "The League is seeking amendments to align the bill more closely with existing State Personnel Board (SPB) standards and expand the requirements to all employers instead of only cities and counties."
They continue, "While SPB has .banned the box. from state applications, it now uses a supplemental questionnaire to ask about criminal backgrounds for any positions for which a criminal history would be relevant. The League is simply asking for the same discretion."
The Bill's sponsor Roger Dickinson, however, argues, "I think the state has a compelling interest because we are trying through criminal justice realignment to reduce the reliance on incarceration as a method of addressing offenders."
Realignment hopes to move those convicted of relatively minor crimes back to the counties in hopes that the better availability of services will enable them to break the cycle and reduce the rate at which they re-offend.
"Since we know that the best way to prevent an offender form re-offending is for that person to have a job, this is a step in the direction of trying to give people some assistance in having a real shot at getting work," he said.
He argued that employment, therefore, increases public safety and reduces recidivism and reduces cost.
Assemblymember Dickinson said, "Hopefully what we'll be able to do if we can get this bill signed into law, is set an example that people that have offended nevertheless can be very useful and valuable employees."
"We will lead the way in encouraging other employers to adopt the same practice," he added.
---David M. Greenwald reporting
This is a ridiculous feel-good piece of legislation IMO. All it does is add expense to the job application process for the city/county, that now would have to go through a two step process every time it wants to hire someone. And I strongly suspect the outcome will still be the same - a city or county will understandably not want to hire anyone that was convicted of a crime. So this legislation will have accomplished absolutely nothing; and added costs for cities and counties...
This is one of those "chicken or the egg" dilemmas.
The "horrendous 70% recidivism rate" is hardly encouraging news to prospective employers. Assemblyman Dickinson argues that ex-cons return to prison is such high numbers because they are frustrated with early disclosure of conviction histories. Local and state governments are asked to accept a "leap of faith" this these frustrated individuals will contribute to society in greater numbers that seen presently, and historically.
A counter proposal. Assemblyman Dickinson shall amend this bill to say the following: All persons seeking employment with any facet of the State Legislature will not be asked to identify their criminal history. After a pattern has been demonstrated that such persons act responsibility and with integrity, this noble social experiment can then be expanded to other areas of local and state government.
IMO, the best approach to reducing recidivism involves:
1. Job/skills training for prisoners. Rather than locking people up for 23 hours a day, give prisoners (who otherwise behave) the option of having the length of their sentences substantially reduced if they would agree to learn a trade behind bars, to learn to read and write at a junior high school level, learn to operate a computer, and learn basic math skills. In order to qualify for early release, they would have to pass tests which proved they learned their trade and learned the other life skills.
Note 1: We don't need to offer job skills programs to prisoners who are not eligible for release for decades. And for those who misbehave in prison--especially those who get in fights or attack guards or otherwise cause serious problems--they don't need to be eligible for this kind of an early release system.
Note 2: A tough question is what to do with those who are functionally retarded. They probably cannot pass these tests. They probably can never really earn a living in the marketplace. Maybe the best bet for them is to have a separate program to train for state jobs that require little mental capacity: Something like clearing brush in state parks and state forests, or helping to keep public beaches clean or restoring desert habitat.
The money it would cost to do all this training and education would be taken from the money saved by reductions in sentences.
2. Try to make sure outgoing prisoners are not drug-addicted or wet alcoholics. This is probably the hardest and most impractical to achieve, but my understanding is that a lot of the so-called revolving door starts with substance abuse and goes from there. So as much as possible, we should make sure everyone who goes into prison with a substance abuse problem is put in a 12-step program in prison and given whatever other counseling that tends to help. It doesn't make much sense to let someone out of prison who will go back to heroin or crack, and then will commit crimes to get his fix.
3. Get the seriously psychiatrically ill patients out of the criminal justice system. Much like substances abuse, we have a vicious cycle with the untreated mentally ill in our prisons and jails. We need to force people who are not being treated for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder into treatment before they commit crimes. In California, that means we need Laura's Law to be funded and to function.
4. We need to waive the minimum wage for ex-cons in entry level jobs. A major reason it is impossible for ex-cons to get legitimate work is because they get out of prison with no work history and no on-the-job learned job-skills. To an employer, they are not worth the $12 an hour that the minimum wage now costs (when you included FICA, Medicare, SUTA, FUTA, etc.) My suggestion is that we should make the minimum wage for ex-prisoners half of whatever the going minimum wage is for up to one-year of employment; make it 3/4ths the minimum wage for the second year; and then after 2 years of work, they would have to be paid the minimum wage or higher. During the two years that they would be working for a sub-minimum wage, the state should pay them the difference in a direct subsidy, and, as low-wage workers, they would qualify for the full EITC and other welfare programs (food stamps, Section 8 housing, etc). Although the subsidy would be expensive, I suspect that it would cost far less than keeping these ex-cons in the revolving door of criminal justice.
"I would add a provision in the bill which is if the person is hired by a private company ..."
The bill doesn't apply to private employers.
This bill would prohibit a local agency from inquiring into or considering the criminal history of an applicant or including any inquiry about criminal history on any initial employment application. The bill would authorize a local agency to consider an applicant’s criminal history after the applicant’s qualifications have been screened and the agency has determined the applicant meets the minimum employment requirements, as stated in any notice issued for the position. The bill would not apply to a position for which a local agency is otherwise required by law to conduct a criminal history background check.
At the state level, has this new provision resulted in a longer time horizon for hiring, by adding some delay to the 2nd phase of the hiring process? I wonder if anyone has determined whether a significant number of ex-cons have been hired who would otherwise have been screened out during the initial application; i.e. has it made a difference in hiring of ex-cons? If the hiring manager is an ex-con, does he get to preferentially select for other ex-cons? (OK, i'm being a bit facetious). At the federal hiring level, surely most ex-cons could not top the level of crimes committed by some D.C. politicos!
"In other words Elaine, you have made another categorical statement without any investigation. Have you checked the cost of painting the water tank with a painter yet? "Since you're off-topic, I'll try to get a comment in before your statement is pulled.
I'm surprised about just how passive-aggressive you've become about your water tank feature. You developed an unsubstantiated commentary, "The Real Cost of the Art on the Water Tank Might Stun You."
Using some information from Michael Mitchell, you attempted to discredit Bob Dunning's commentaries about the art contract costing $75,000 by some using some voodoo math to come up with an unbelievable figure of $6,000 "real cost." But, it turns out that Dunning no doubt is closer to correct than you.
"The point is that the city had to spend money to finish the tank and chose the art route over the more traditional route at roughly the same cost is the point here.....So the real question is, how much would the project have cost without the art?"Odd that you knew the premise and the questions, but that you didn't find out the answer.
Even after Sue Greenwald pointed out that your city cost figures from Mr. Mitchell were not accurate and others pointed out that your story otherwise was insupportable and illogical, you closed your eyes tighter and tighter.
"It (the "something more than a basic paint job") had to do with the finish. I'll see if I can get a more technical explanation."Days went by, and you didn't get the answers from Mr. Mitchell about how much the city had planned to spend for the "standard finish" it considered if it hadn't decided to go the art route. Instead you suggested Elaine figure out how much paint and labor would cost.
Then, you come up with some secret-source painters who tell you "they could probably do it for about $40,000 to $50,000....just to do the paint job." Then, you add a couple labor and paint requirements that conveniently increase the amount to $75,000 that would be "about the right cost for a city to have to pay for the finishing."
"You (Elaine) can call up local painters and ask them what they would charge and remember to add in the added costs of labor via the prevailing wage law, let me know what you come up with."
Here you are, back again, baiting Elaine just because you used the wrong figures to come up with your commentary conclusion. Obviously, you did not even have a figure for the "standard finish" when you came to your contention that the art contract represented only $6,000.
Instead of just correcting the original error, you spent the time misdirecting the questions people raised. Instead of getting the actual figure from the city, you just provided some made up speculation about what it might have cost the city for the standard finish option.
And, then you keep challenging Elaine to come up with some different, meaningless estimate from another painter. I don't get why you're so insistent in not getting the actual figure from Mr. Mitchell. The cost of the standard finish won't be the same as the aesthetic finish cost/rebate.
You could make the same point as you did--that the "real cost" wasn't as much as people think--you just likely wouldn't be using the dramatic numbers you did by using the aesthetic finish cost. (Of course, there's still a possibility that the city might have had to pay more for the standard finish than the artists charged. Wouldn't it be worth finding out instead of sending Elaine out to chat with some painters?)
I am very much in favor of your approaches to this problem overall. I do have reservations about Laura's law, not so much in principle, since there is certainly precedent medically in terms of compliance with medical treatment to protect the individual and the community in terms of completion of antibiotic regimens say for instance for tuberculosis. However, just as in "Three Strikes", the devil is in the details. I am concerned about the unintended consequences of medications being used not just to protect the community, but also to control the merely inconvenient or disruptive behavior of individuals who are more a nuisance than they are dangerous. I think that there is a great deal of evidence from how medications are used to control disruptive behaviors in hospital, nursing and rehabilitative facilites to demonstrate that this is a foreseeable outcome.
Rich's idea of being able to hire ex-cons at below minimum wage is intriguing.
We are all operating on the premise that if such persons were hired in greater numbers soon after release the rate of recidivism would decline. Giving ex-cons a competitive edge in hiring by being able to hire them at a lower pay just might work.
I like this idea far better the Dickinson's Bill, which seems to be nothing more than delaying the inevitable. If employers don't want to hire ex-cons they won't. Delaying the exposure pending a background check seems silly.
Finally, usually when something is advocated and no supporting statistics are given in support I usually find that there are none, or that they are unfavorable to the cause. If this concept is so widely used elsewhere surely there are thousands of examples to call on. Where are they?
In other words Elaine, you have made another categorical statement without any investigation. Have you checked the cost of painting the water tank with a painter yet?
Now you are bringing in an issue that is totally off topic, against the Vanguard's rules; and frankly w a very snarky tone. I would also advise you to see JustSaying's post above. It is clear that I cannot have a rational discussion w you on either of these issues, so I am choosing to disengage rather than say something I'll be sorry for...
"Phil: I disagree. If you pay someone a wage that they cannot live on, it does not help them and ultimately society."
Wouldn't it be better than paying them nothing (because they have no job)? Wouldn't the successful job experience, record, training, etc. improve their future prospects as well "help them" financially on a temporary basis? (I believe you help your interns and, ultimately, society by providing employment opportunities. How much do you pay them?)
How much do you consider "a wage they cannot live on"? I have friends who feel they're in just such a dilemma with their minimum wage and/or part time jobs. However, they don't suggest the job "does not help them." They count their blessings, cut back on spending and go out and get a second job until their great job comes along.