Deal signs state ‘ban the box’ policy easing hiring of former convicts

Job seekers applying for work with the state of Georgia will no longer need to disclose prior criminal convictions on their applications.

Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order implementing a "ban the box" policy that outlaws a requirement for people with criminal histories to disclose that information on an initial job form.

“Such policies will allow returning citizens an opportunity to explain their unique circumstances in person to a potential employer,” the order states.

The initiative was recommended by Deal's criminal justice reform council in January 2014. The council's report said it was a barrier to employment that could exclude released inmates from consideration even if they are qualified for the job and the conviction has no bearing on the work.

It urged instead a requirement that the applicant disclose any criminal history during a face-to-face interview with the hiring agent.

Deal has long suggested he would sign an order banning state agencies from including the question as part of broader criminal justice changes aimed at helping released inmates transition more smoothly back into society.

“This helps not only these individuals and their families but also society as a whole by preventing a return to crime,” Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said. “The governor has encouraged private employers to give opportunities to former inmates, and this move demonstrates that he practices what he preaches.”

About 97 percent of those sentenced to prison in Georgia will eventually be released, and more than 1,300 re-enter society each month without employment, according to Deal’s office.

The city of Atlanta in October endorsed similar procedures. And 13 states have adopted the policy, including Minnesota, New Jersey and New Mexico. Georgia would be the first state in the South to implement the initiative, Deal's office said.

The order requires state agencies to offer qualified applicants the chance in a follow-up interview to "contest the content and relevance of a criminal record" and provide information that demonstrates rehabilitation.

It carves out exceptions for those seeking “sensitive governmental positions” in which a criminal history would be an immediate disqualification. That includes jobs such as prison guards or security officers.

“Job opportunities give hope and help us lower recidivism rates,” Robinson said, “which means we have fewer victims.”

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