Published: Jan 05, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Jan 04, 2011 04:26 PM
The recent push by groups such as The Durham Second Chance Alliance to "ban the box" on job applications that asks about past criminal charges calls attention to a matter we need to address.
In an era of increased global competitiveness, a region as diverse and intellectual as the Triangle must take advantage of every resource available. In denying opportunities to a select demographic, employers may be forfeiting the chance to hire people who could possibly increase their efficiency and profits. Even more unfortunate for those that do this is that this potential human capital could be snatched by competing cities that have already banned the box, including Baltimore, Boston and Seattle.
I'll use my own story for an example.
Growing up, I was a decent kid and I stayed out of trouble. The son of a preacher, I was on the honor roll and even played the violin for a few years. In my early teens I began hanging with a rougher crowd. In the aftermath, I made a mistake that I paid dearly for.
In an attempt to retrieve my belongings from an individual, I entered his home illegally. I got my stuff back, but I also caught a breaking and entering charge in the process.
I made a full confession to the detectives and, after commenting on my civility - they said I was the nicest person they had dealt with in six months -- they advocated on my behalf before the judge. I got a lengthy lecture, 24 months of supervised probation, but no jail time.
I was 18 when that happened.
At 19 I applied for a job at a local fast-food restaurant. I filled out my application, arrived at my interview early, with my criminal record check in hand as was required.
It was probably one of the shortest interviews ever. The manager looked at my charge and simply asked me "Why did you even come here today?"
Suffice it to say, I didn't get the job.
I was crushed. I knew for certain at that point that my lapse in judgment a year earlier would cost me dearly.
For how long would I be judged by what was checked in that little box?
For the next 10 years I missed opportunity after opportunity because of my dumb mistake. Often I gave up without trying because I figured the person on the other side of the table would see nothing but a felon.
I had skills to offer that day so long ago. I was an excellent communicator and had stellar references to comment on my work ethic. Still, I believe that box on applications held me back.
I can respect an employer's need to know about past convictions or pending charges, but it should not automatically rule someone unfit.
For someone who has never been in the position I was in, it can be hard to empathize with the despair enveloping more than a million North Carolinians with criminal records as they struggle to pick up their lives and move forward. Many readers may think these folks deserve whatever comes their way no matter how long ago the offense.
Data from the N.C. Department of Justice's 2009 crime statistics points to the fact that a majority of the crime committed in the area is by far property related. Of the total non-violent and property-related offenses, a small percentage was committed by juveniles. Many of these kids will permanently carry this scarlet mark.
I'm not condoning any criminal behavior - non-violent or otherwise. But is it fair to continue condemning folks after they have paid a debt to society? Is it OK to allow these people to vote but not to provide them with an equal chance of employment?
We all make mistakes, especially when we're young. The question is whether or not we learn from them. Instead of using a check in a box to define a potential employee maybe it's time to begin truly judging on qualifications. That applicant's mistake may be a boon for the company and the future worker.