Kwanza Hall, right, authored legislation that eliminates a question about criminal records from the city of Atlanta’s job application. Atlanta Councilperson Carla Smith is on the left.
Photo: Kent D. Johnson / AJC
Photo: Kent D. Johnson / AJC

Atlanta Council passes ‘Ban the Box’ legislation

People seeking work with the city of Atlanta no longer need to disclose prior convictions on job applications.

The Atlanta City Council adopted legislation this week banning a requirement for people with criminal convictions to disclose that information to the city on a job application.

The ordinance, sponsored by District 2 Councilman Kwanza Hall and several others, codifies a practice that Mayor Kasim Reed implemented in recent years.

Hall, who is traveling in Serbia this week for a conference, said the legislation “helps level the playing field for job applicants to the city of Atlanta and gives more people an opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications for city employment.”

Atlanta is among the latest to endorse a national movement that seeks to end job discrimination based on prior convictions. The national campaign, dubbed “Ban the Box,” was begun 10 years ago by people with criminal records who say they were discriminated against by potential employers because of those crimes. According to the Ban the Box website, the group is focused on government agencies as a starting point for change.

The Atlanta ordinance carves out exceptions for those seeking positions that require state or federal background checks, such as public safety jobs or for those working with children.

Xochitl Bervera, co-director of the Racial Justice Action Center, said that employment is the primary hurdle for people upon leaving prison or jail, and impacts whether they are likely to be re-incarcerated. While applicants will no longer be asked to indicate prior convictions, nothing prohibits the city from conducting its own background check later in the process, she said. The legislation provides guidance on how such information should be used.

“I think our hope is that people who have prior convictions will feel confident in applying for jobs at the city of Atlanta, and that we’ll see a rise in people who are qualified, skilled and want to be working,” she said.

She’s now calling on city vendors to implement similar bans in their respective businesses.

Fulton County adopted “ban the box” legislation earlier this year, and supporters plan to rally Gov. Nathan Deal to issue an executive order on the matter later this month, she said. Deal has previously signaled support for the initiative.

Marilynn Winn, with a grassroots organization of women with prior convictions called Women on the Rise, also applauded the move. She said she’s experienced first-hand the negative effects of disclosing past crimes on a job application.

“I may have all the skills and qualifications, but if I’m asked to check that box, I can’t even get an interview,” she said in a statement. “Everybody deserves the chance to work and put food on their table and a roof over their head.”

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