Second chance advocate speaks on 'Ban the Box'
WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - If you do the crime, you do the time, but some say a criminal's punishment lives on beyond the time they serve.
"Ban the Box" is a movement working to eliminate the box on applications requiring future employees to disclose whether or not they have a criminal record.
Atkinson is the first ever Second Chance fellow for the U.S. Justice Department and has worked hard to overcome his own criminal record.
Back in the 90's, Atkinson was convicted on drug charges which landed him in prison for more than three years.
"My driver's license was automatically suspended. I couldn't vote in the state of Alabama, the place of my birth. I was denied federal financial student aid as I went back and tried to matriculate through college, I was denied admittance into several universities and law schools. Fortunately I had a loving family around me that could cushion the blow," Atkinson shared.
During the meeting several people with criminal records shared their hardships of trying to get food stamps, a college education, housing and employment.
"Not everyone is going to have that kind of family and support system, that's why in civil society with government in the private sector we have to create secondary support systems, so folks can have opportunity and access to opportunity; otherwise, we're going to have this cycle of criminality," Atkinson noted.
Atkinson said many times when people see that you have a criminal record they will immediately throw out your application.
"I don't have any delusions of grandeur that there's something so special about me. I know more people have skills, have dreams, have aspirations to be anything under the sun, and we're losing out on the future business leaders, the next innovator, the next contributor to our economy because we are denying them access to various opportunities to employment, education and housing on the front end because we're using criminal record history as a disqualifier," Atkinson explained passionately.
Atkinson said what he calls discrimination based on someone's past is a big issue and it affects everyone.
"You contribute to the city and the county tax base that pays for jail space that pays for police, that pays for you know state expenditure on our court system and you I'm sure want a better allocation on your tax dollars," Atkinson said. "You care about your community being safe and the biggest interruption or mitigator to someone living in a cycle of crime, and committing a repeat offense, is being able to get gainful employment, that's why you should care."
The Second Chance Fellow noted the campaign doesn't ask employers not to conduct background checks, but to do it after they've reviewed the person's skills and made a conditional offer of employment, so potential employees have the opportunity to prove themselves.
He cited the city of Durham and Durham county as an example of where banning the box had thrived.
He also noted an employee with a past can sign a certificate of relief that protests an employer from being sued because of hiring someone with a record.
"We have evidence in Durham that the edict that America is the land of second chances is true, and it's been working," Atkinson said.
In Durham, officials have:
- Removed the question on the application
- Delayed background checks until a conditional offer of employment
- Provide applicants with a copy of background checks in order to determine its accuracy
- Determines whether the criminal record is related to the potential job
- Gives applicant notice of denial of job due to criminal record
- Gives applicants ten days to appeal denials of employment by showing evidence of rehabilitation
A New Hanover County spokesperson said leaders will talk about banning the box policies within the next few months.
During the presentation, Atkinson noted about 3,050 people are currently on parole or probation in New Hanover County and about 902 people from the county are currently in prison.
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