Criminal conviction question would be stricken from Louisville job applications under ordinance

March 12, 2014. Courier-Journal.

It’s been more than a decade since Adam Carter did time in prison for dealing cocaine — but when it comes to trying to get a job interview, it might as well have been yesterday, he says.

Application after application asks the same question: “Have you ever been charged or convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor?” And as soon as he answered “yes,” it seemed employers were no longer interested.

“It really does amaze me that I made a mistake 14, 15 years ago, but people are still holding that mistake against me,” said Carter, who works as an NCAA baseball umpire but ran into difficulties finding work after being laid off from a previous job.

It’s why Carter hopes the Louisville Metro Council will pass an ordinance tonight that would prohibit city government and city vendors from including a question about criminal convictions on job applications. Supporters say roughly 160,000 Jefferson County adults have criminal records and 40 percent are minorities, resulting in far too many residents being shut out of jobs.

The movement has been dubbed “ban the box” for the check-off box many applications contain. It would not apply to private employers who are not doing business with the city or to other non-city governments within Jefferson County.

“It was really difficult,” Carter said. “I knew a lot of the jobs I was qualified for. I think because I had to check that box that they prejudged me.”

The city and vendors would still be allowed to ask about criminal convictions and conduct background checks. But by striking the question from applications, job seekers would get a chance to explain their situation, supporters say.

Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat, and some Republican members of the council support banning the box from city government job applications — they say the city already has that policy — but they oppose extending the ban to vendors doing business with city government.

“When government starts telling you what to put on your applications — what’s next?” asked Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16th District.

Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Fischer, said city government has 26,000 vendors from small businesses to large companies.

“Making the vendors do it is a completely different level that would be very difficult to implement, and we will oppose that,” Poynter said. He said Fischer would consider vetoing the ordinance.

Poynter said representatives of the administration met with Metro Council members this week and offered amendments dealing with exemptions for certain vendors that, if passed, would satisfy the mayor’s office.

For years, city government has operated without the question on job applications and the current proposal would place that into law, preventing any future administration from reinstating it.

Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7th District, believes the effort is unnecessary because the question is no longer asked on city government applications. He said he will formally request information about the financial impact on government and businesses.

Fleming said administration officials have indicated that implementing and maintaining the process would require additional government employees and possibly an investigator.

Carter and those supporting the change argue that the question hurts the economy by limiting the ability of some qualified workers to support themselves and their families.

“I believe that if you’re looking to move our economy forward and making sure that everyone that is able to be gainfully employed has an opportunity to do so — that a measure like this opens up the marketplace for folks like that,” said Councilman David Tandy, a 4th District Democrat and one of eight sponsors of the legislation.

Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together, a grassroots coalition of churches and religious organizations, is leading the fight for the ban and will hold a rally at city hall at 5 p.m. today.

The Rev. Larry Sykes of Greater Good Hope Baptist Church, co-chair of CLOUT’s Jobs for Ex-Offenders Issue Committee, said disallowing the box won’t not stop an employer from conducting a background check, but he said those cost money and are often late in the hiring process — after an applicant is in the door.

“People who get a chance at interviewing are more likely to be hired than someone who has been weeded out because of a criminal conviction in their past,” he said.

Sykes said including only city government would affect a small number of people — about 1,000 hires a year — but adding vendors would be a tremendous help to people in the community and their families.

He also argues that giving more opportunities to ex-offenders would reduce recidivism — and a resulting drop in spending for courts and corrections.

Sykes said there is not a lot of council Republican support for the ordinance, but CLOUT organizers pointed to the recent passage of a similar ordinance in Indianapolis with bipartisan support.

The City-County Council there passed a measure 26-2 prohibiting the city, vendors and some companies that receive city benefits from asking potential employees about convictions on the application or in the first interview.

Carter, who was convicted in 1998 and served time from 2000-03, had a good support system and worked as a general manager and partner in a fast-food franchise until it was sold in 2011 and then worked in accounting and business administration with a local company until it downsized.

“That is when I really began to experience how hard it was as a convicted felon to get a job,” Carter said. “Out of incarceration, I had an opportunity. I had never had to experience checking that box.”

But, once he did, Carter said he felt there were jobs he was qualified for but not considered because of his conviction. He said he feels good about his chances if he can get an interview and tell his story.

“Everybody has made a mistake in the past,” he said. “I think the difference is some of us were caught and some of us were not caught.”

CLOUT reaches out to unbanked households

Louisville, KY – As a result of CLOUT’s work, Mayor Jerry Abramson agreed to convene local banks and credit unions to develop an initiative to offer more affordable and accessible products and services to reach out to the 29,000 unbanked households in the Louisville area (i.e., families without a checking or savings account and are likely to pay high transaction fees for services like check cashing or exorbitant interest on loans). The “Bank On Louisville” initiative was officially launched in July 2010. There are sixteen financial institutions participating. Since its launch, over 16,000 persons have opened new accounts, with an average balance of $853 and with 91% of the accounts remaining open.

CLOUT is also working to secure a statewide interest rate cap of 36% on payday loans, which currently charge approximately 400% APR in Kentucky. Payday loans are small, short-term loans that are intended to cover a borrower’s expenses until his/her next payday, but regularly become a “debt trap” in which the borrower has to repeatedly renew the loan and pay associated fees every two weeks or take out loans to cover interest on previous loans. CLOUT has assisted in the development of the Kentucky Coalition for Responsible Lending, a diverse coalition of over 60 organizations across the state who support a rate cap.

CLOUT works to plug the “school to prison pipeline”

Louisville, KY – In 2010, CLOUT turned their attention to the growing phenomenon known as the “school to prison pipeline” – a set of practices that ultimately push kids out of education toward the criminal justice system and eventually into prison. At CLOUT’s March 2010 Nehemiah Action, Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell and the judges of the Jefferson County Juvenile Court committed their support to the implementation of a restorative justice approach in local juvenile courts. The resulting program, called “Restorative Justice Louisville,” uses “family group conferencing” to deal with select juvenile court cases that will hold the offender more accountable, allow for restitution, and avoid incarceration. Mr. O’Connell also committed to discontinue the practice of referring all school-related offenses to court.

As for JCPS, in response to CLOUT’s request, JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens and other top administrators, along with two school board members and the head of the local teacher’s union traveled with CLOUT leaders to visit a school in Baltimore, MD to observe the use of restorative practices there. Also at CLOUT’s request, Superintendent Hargens organized an all-day orientation in restorative practices for representatives from almost all 150 JCPS schools.

Then, in the 2014-2015 school year, in response to CLOUT’s ongoing work to move the JCPS from using primarily punitive and exclusionary methods of school discipline, 76 schools have been trained in the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program, which gives schools the tools to resolve discipline issues in the classroom, reducing suspension rates, referrals to alternative schools, and drop-outs. Also, in June 2014, the JCPS Board of Education approved a new Code of Conduct that contains more use of restorative practices

CLOUT’s efforts result in enrollment of additional 60,000 children in KCHIP

Louisville, KY – In its “Catch a Falling Child” campaign, CLOUT addressed the fact that thousands of eligible children were falling through the cracks of the healthcare system due to various barriers to enrollment in the KCHIP (Kentucky Child Health Insurance Program). CLOUT won a commitment from thirteen different state and local health officials in 2008 to form a task force and develop a pilot project enrolling 6,000 more children in Medicaid and KCHIP within the following three years. This task force developed a set of recommendations on how to improve the state’s Medicaid and KCHIP programs. Gov. Steve Beshear eventually committed to remove barriers to enrollment, and to dedicate $31 million, to be matched by $81 million in federal funding, to enroll 35,000 children in KCHIP over the following two years. As the result of these changes, over time an additional 60,000 children were enrolled in KCHIP

CLOUT looks to stop the revolving door of crime

Louisville, KY – At CLOUT’s Nehemiah Action in March 2007, CLOUT members launched the “Stop the Revolving Door” campaign to secure reforms in the criminal justice system. Then Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Lambert followed through on his commitment to double the size of the Drug Court program, to provide more training for judges on how to use the program, and to maintain the licensed treatment component of the program. Drug Courts operate under a specialized model in which the criminal justice system, mental health, and treatment communities work together to help non-violent offenders treat their addictions and become productive citizens, and has proven to lower recidivism and tax spending on crime when properly implemented. Kentucky Department of Corrections Commission John Rees followed through on his commitment by creating a new training program in issues related to drug & alcohol addiction for all Probation and Parole staff statewide; it is now required for all new and existing staff. Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson followed through on his commitment to establish a new drug treatment program in the local jail.