Dr. Marvin McMickle recently expressed his views on pending legislation at a public hearing last week. The legislation, led by Rochester Council member Adam McFadden, seeks to eliminate the requirement for disclosure of felony convictions on employment applications. Here, in its entirety, is Dr. McMickle’s statement:
To the members of Rochester City Council and all others gathered here today. I stand with others that have come here this evening in support of a policy that speaks about justice and points to the principle of fairness concerning those that have been duly convicted of a felony offense, have served the sentence prescribed by the state, and are attempting to get on with the rest of their lives. The issue that brings us together tonight is succinctly entitled Ban the Box. By that we mean the last box that appears on so many employment applications that asks if a person has ever been convicted of a felony offense. That box more often than not results in a person not being considered for the job that they are pursuing. Diminished employment opportunities tend to result in one of two things. First, a person is forced into the lowest paying jobs and is unable to adequately provide for themselves or their family. Second, some persons are then inclined to return to the illegal economy that may have resulted in their initial arrest and incarceration.
There may well be some jobs or industries where a person convicted of certain felony offenses should receive some added scrutiny and may need to be denied a job in those particular arenas. However, given the fact that the vast majority of ex-offenders are convicted of non-violent drug offenses and remanded to a prison sentence of 18 months or less, it seems that what this box does is force every ex-offender no matter the nature of his/her offense to serve what amounts to a “life sentence” where the time they spend in prison or on parole is then followed by a lifetime of exclusion from the benefits of society. It may well be that this box about a prior felony conviction is the single greatest contributing factor to the high rate of recidivism in our criminal justice system.
To ban the box is in no way being “soft on crime.” What it represents is the recognition that people have fully paid their debt to society for the crimes they have committed, and should be allowed to reenter the work force at whatever level their skills and ambitions might allow. “Double jeopardy” says that a person cannot be charged and sentenced twice for the same crime. Ban the box says that a person will not have to be punished for the rest of their lives for the mistake(s) that may have made many years earlier. The City of Rochester can lead in this effort by removing that box from its employment forms and then urging other public and private sector employers to do the same.
Marvin A. McMickle, Ph.D
Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School
1100 S. Goodman Street
Rochester, NY 14620