The Atlanta City Council approved an ordinance on Monday, Oct. 6 expanding efforts to eliminate discrimination against potential applicants for jobs with the City of Atlanta who have prior criminal convictions.
The legislation was sponsored by Atlanta City Councilmember Kwanza Hall and co-sponsored by City Council members Natalyn Archibong, Andre Dickens and Joyce Sheperd.
“I am grateful to my Council colleagues for their support of this initiative,” said Hall. “Under Mayor Reed and the Department of Human Resources, the City of Atlanta has established a progressive track record on this issue. Today’s passage of the ordinance codifies a practice that opens opportunities to consideration for government employment that many local governments across the country do not yet offer.”
While the City of Atlanta’s current application process no longer requires an applicant to reveal a prior conviction on an application, the legislation officially makes it city policy except when state and/or federal laws require criminal background investigations for certain positions, including positions that involve work with children, positions in law enforcement, and other sensitive positions.
“We applaud the City Council for taking this step toward ending employment discrimination against people with prior convictions,” said Marilynn Winn of Women on the Rise, a grassroots organization of formerly incarcerated women. “I have personally experienced the ‘box’ resulting in my automatic disqualification many times. I may have all the skills and qualifications, but if I’m asked to check that box, I can’t even get an interview. Everybody deserves the chance to work and put food on their table and a roof over their head. We’re glad that the City of Atlanta recognizes that many of us with backgrounds have a lot to contribute and a fair hiring policy means we may actually have a chance to do just that.”
By codifying this fair hiring policy, the City Council has shown its commitment to real policy solutions to the crisis of mass incarceration, said Xochitl Bervera of the Racial Justice Action Center. “Employment is both the number one barrier for people coming home from prison and jail and the most significant factor in whether a person stays in the community with their family or returns to prison,” she said. “Blanket disqualification is not just unfair, it’s bad policy — both increasing recidivism and removing skilled and hard working people from the hiring pool. We’re glad the Council is taking this step and look forward to seeing a similar policy governing all businesses who contract with city.”
Studies have shown that individuals with criminal records suffer from pervasive discrimination in many areas of life, including employment. Employers have increased the use of background checks considerably, with the majority of large employers in the U.S. now screening their potential workers for prior convictions.
Each year the City of Atlanta and Fulton County have 2,400 people returning home from Georgia’s jails and prisons seeking employment.
Research shows that lack of employment is a significant factor in recidivism rates, with people who are employed proving significantly less likely to be re-arrested.
Hall’s legislation was developed as part of the Ban the Box Program, a national movement with the goal of increasing employment opportunities for individuals with prior criminal convictions by removing the question regarding prior criminal history from employment applications.