Back in 2011, Kalamazoo “banned the box” for government jobs.  What does “ban the box” mean?    Well, Ban the Box is the name of an international campaign by civil rights groups as well as advocates for ex-offenders.  The goal of this group is to persuade employers to remove from their hiring applications the check box that asks if applicants have a criminal record.

The Ban the Box campaign is attempting to stop what they perceive as a way to unlawfully discriminate against a person, based on his or her criminal history.

On Monday, the Kalamazoo City Commission voted unanimously (Mayor Hopewell was absent) to require that businesses who have contracts with the city to also “ban the box” on their hiring applications.

According to an article in MLive.com, “any organization seeking to provide goods and services to the city in the amount more than $25,000 that are asking for a tax abatement or for an Economic Opportunity Fund loan, which includes brownfield projects, will have to show that they do not use past criminal histories to discriminate in employment.

I understand the plight of ex-felons, they have done their time.  One of the concerns of opponents of this policy is recidivism, which is committing another crime after release from prison.  The numbers for the rate of recidivism fluctuated within different categories of crime, but it is generally in the mid to upper 40% range.

Potential employers are worried about possible further criminal activity by these potential employees, as well as the possibility of being sued by customers if these employees were to commit a crime against them while on the clock.

Is it fair to forbid a business from asking a person’s criminal history on a job application?  I feel it isn't however, under the old and new Kalamazoo policies, businesses can ask for an applicant’s criminal history and run a background check on them later on in the hiring process.

Supporters of the “ban the box” proposal hung banners in city commission chambers that stated, "Why should I be punished my whole life?" "Thank you city of Kalamazoo" and "Fair Chance for All," which is the name of the group supporting the change.

In the Mlive.com article, Vice Mayor Don Cooney is quoted as saying: "This is what democracy looks like," and Commissioner Shannon Sykes was quoted as saying "This is such a win and it's because of all of you and the hard work that you've done. It means a lot for so many people”.

This is an issue with a lot of hard questions and concerns on both sides of the debate.  Questions and concerns that I consider valid.  On one hand, they have paid their debt to society and deserve a chance. I assume they feel they are being prejudged for an act they have not committed.  On the other hand, businesses are worried about possible future criminal activity against the business or customers.

Again, the recidivism rate is in the 40% range.  Although, if the recidivism rate is in the 40 – 50% range, that does mean that 50+% are not committing another crime.  We would be prejudging those people unfairly.

How about we comprise, and make it a law that any municipality that uses or forces the “ban the box” policy must also take on the legal ramifications of that policy?  The municipality is legally responsible if another crime occurs, and the business and their customers can sue the municipality for their losses.

Sounds like a fair compromise to me, what about you?

Let’s talk about this today on The Live with Renk Show which airs Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to noon. To let me know your thoughts during the show please call (269) 441-9595.

Or please feel free to start a discussion and write your thoughts in the comment section.