Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2018

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Ban the Box movement comes to North Las Vegas

Proponents aim to help job seekers with criminal records

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Steve Marcus

Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, D-North Las Vegas, shown in 2013, spoke to the North Las Vegas City Council Wednesday night, proposing a Ban the Box policy in which job seekers would no longer be required to initially disclose felony records on job applications.

A proposal to give job seekers with criminal records a better chance to advance in the hiring process was presented to the North Las Vegas City Council last week.

The Ban the Box initiative would eliminate the box routinely found on job applications that potential employees must check to disclose their criminal records.

“Ban the Box (is) a fair chance at hiring based on skills, ability and merit,” Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, D-North Las Vegas, told the City Council last Wednesday. “It’s a first-chance opportunity for a prospective employer to get to know [an applicant] and not look at (what the applicant) did years ago. It removes the detention-history question on an application.”

Thompson, who introduced a related bill in the Legislature in 2015, emphasized that he was not seeking to eliminate background checks, only to remove a potential barrier at the outset of the hiring process. “We want the prospective employer to meet the person first, get to see if they would be good for the work culture, and see if they have the credentials and work ethic.”

Only then, Thompson said, a background check could be conducted to find anything that could exclude an applicant from getting a particular job.

Jon D. Ponder, chief executive officer of HOPE for Prisoners, also spoke in favor. He said the Las Vegas organization, which helps ex-offenders with re-entry, worked with 336 individuals in 2015, 131 of whom lived in North Las Vegas. He introduced Christopher Ellis, one of the men the organization helped to get a job, to the City Council.

Ellis said he was incarcerated for 20 years and now works in the utility department of Transdev, a local paratransit company.

“When I came home, (I was) just drained. I knew that I was going home to nothing, and it was going to be hard. I’m not going to get a job. I have this record. I’m labeled as a thug,” Ellis told the City Council. After becoming involved with HOPE for Prisoners and getting a job, he said he felt blessed. “I never imagined my life would be as good as it is right now. My family is proud.”

More than 150 cities and counties in the U.S. have removed the question from job applications. If it adopts the policy, North Las Vegas would be the first municipality in Nevada to do so. Ryann Juden, then chief of staff and now assistant city manager, testified in favor of Thompson’s bill before the Government Affairs Committee in 2015. The bill stalled, but Williams hopes to reintroduce the bill next year.

Although they did not vote on the issue, several members of the City Council indicated their support.

Mayor John Lee noted that if an employer gets to know an applicant during the hiring process and decides, “I like this guy. I think he could fit in this position,” the applicant can then volunteer the information, creating a discussion point, and allowing the employer to say, “I can live with that.”

Thompson said it’s up to the municipality on how it wants to look on that felony, noting that President Barack Obama has supported the idea of banning the box since 2015. “Yes, the felony may be sitting there, but it’s up to the hiring agency if that conviction really is going to run you sideways on employing him. It eliminates a lot of discrimination that occurs on the front end when people apply.”

“If we keep rejecting (people with records), we’re almost pushing them back into recidivism because you can’t get a job and you can’t survive,” Councilwoman Anita Wood said. “This is a major obstacle in their rejoining the workforce because you can’t even get that bond with them.”

“What the Ban the Box initiative is going to do is give the applicant that face-to-face conversation and maybe explain those things that may have happened in the past,” Ponder said after the meeting. “By doing so, it will give the applicant the opportunity to show that he may well be a tremendous asset to the organization. It’s a win-win.”

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