By Allison Meyer
Job applicants are no longer required to disclose their criminal history on Johnson County’s initial employment application after the county Board of Supervisors voted to “ban the box” June 14. The motion carried 4-0, with Supervisor Janelle Rettig absent.
Ban the Box is a national campaign started to help individuals with prior criminal convictions re-enter the workforce. “The box” refers to the checkmark box that appears on numerous job applications, asking if the applicant has a prior conviction.
The supervisors’ action requires that applicants be selected for interviews before being asked about their criminal records. This is in an attempt to base the selection of applicants on job qualifications and skills, not criminal history. The action only applies to employers that the county has jurisdiction over; the state took away the power of the county to require actions for private employers.
Supervisors said they hoped the resolution would encourage private employers in Johnson County to follow their lead and ban the box as well. Corporations such as Walmart and Target no longer ask about applicants’ criminal history on the initial applications.
“This is a strong step in the right direction,” said Betty Andrews of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP at the supervisors’ meeting. “The goal is that this is a ripple in the water and that it gets bigger and bigger.”
Criminal records can often be a barrier to employment for people who have criminal convictions, the resolution said. In many instances, applicants with criminal records are automatically sorted out of the list of candidates for positions without the opportunity to explain the circumstances or severity of the convictions.
“Obviously, some of these questions are relevant when asked at the relevant time,” said Supervisor Mike Carberry. “However, not at the beginning, where that knowledge could prejudice the hiring or not hiring of an applicant.”
The resolution said difficulty in finding employment for people with convictions can hinder their ability to return and contribute to the community, and often this has a major influence on the likelihood that some will commit another offense.
“I’m glad we’re doing it,” said Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass. “I think we really need to open up opportunities if people have paid their dues to the system. We should at least give them a chance to move forward and re-enter society.”
By removing barriers to employment for applicants with criminal records, the supervisors hope the action will improve economic opportunity and civic engagement, decrease the some people’s reliance on public-assistance programs, and create a more diverse workforce with a wider range of experience and perspectives.
Members of the NAACP and Inside Out Re-entry were present at the meeting, sharing their experience and thanking the supervisors for passing the resolution.