COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” will no longer be a question on Ohio’s civil service application beginning June 1.
Ohio is voluntarily joining the “ban the box” movement and removing the yes-or-no question that’s been asked of applicants to thousands of state government positions, including highway workers, prison guards, social workers and lawyers. The move comes amid growing national concern that the checkbox about a person’s criminal history can deter offenders from seeking jobs and cause employers to miss out on qualified applicants, state officials told The Associated Press.
Human resources officers at Ohio agencies were being briefed on the change Thursday and Friday.
Civil service applicants in Ohio will still be asked to disclose past crimes during job interviews and finalists for state jobs will undergo background checks, but Administrative Services Director Robert Blair said the new practice allows people to explain the circumstances surrounding their offenses.
More than 10 states and dozens of municipalities have removed the box since civil rights groups began their push for it in the 1990s. More recently, states have begun passing legislation banning the use of the box by private sector employers. Some business groups have pushed back, saying it could put them at risk of a potential crime.
Blair said Ohio came to the conclusion that checking “yes” on the box may have served as a quick way for agencies in the past to rule out applicants inside a state government that receives some 250,000 job applications a year. He said it’s impossible to know how many jobseekers Ohio has rejected because they checked the box or how many didn’t even apply for fear a conviction would disqualify them.
“You have some kid that’s now 40 years old who got in a scrape when he was 21, and that’s the kind of kid you want to help out,” Blair said.
Stephanie Loucka, the state’s human resources chief, said other applicants may have had serious convictions, but they have been rehabilitated and would make a good fit for one of the roughly 4,000 state jobs that Ohio fills in an average year.
The box is being removed from both online and paper applications.
Loucka said there are still some jobs where a candidate with a certain type of conviction would be disqualified - for example, wildlife officers or employees with responsibilities over state money. Those circumstances will still be fully disclosed on the job posting.
“We don’t want to be in the position of ‘gotcha’ with the candidate,” she said.
State prisons director Gary Mohr views removal of the box from state applications as “a huge deal.” He said about 1.7 million of Ohio’s 11.5 million residents have been convicted of a crime that would have required them to check the box - including many who never went to prison.
“If we didn’t eliminate that box, then people - not just offenders, we’re talking about people, the people who come through our system are people, they’re Ohioans - would not get an opportunity to look an employer in the eye and say, ‘This is what I can offer,’” he said.
Mohr said the idea to remove the box first emerged from the state’s 2012 review of the consequences of incarceration. He said the move advances the department’s goal to reduce recidivism.
“What we know is jobs, employment, is just a fundamentally important part of someone changing their lives, not just economically but their value, their self-worth,” he said.
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