Bill in state Legislature aimed at leveling job-search playing field for ex-inmates

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State Sen. Maralyn Chase

The Washington State Legislature is considering a bill, co-sponsored by 32nd District Sen. Maralyn Chase, that would help formerly incarcerated Washingtonians get a fairer chance at employment.

The Fair Chance Act would “ban the box” — that is, prevent employers from asking about a person’s criminal background until after he or she is deemed qualified for the job.

Tarra Simmons, executive director of Civil Survival, an advocacy group for people who have been incarcerated, says people coming out of jail or prison need a way to support themselves just like anyone else in the community.

“When people can’t find employment, we see a high rate of recidivism — people coming out of prison and going right back in,” she points out. “So that is a tremendous use of resources that we are spending incarcerating people across our state, when they could have some hope and some opportunity to survive in a lawful way.”

The Washington State Fair Chance Coalition says a conservative estimate for the cost to imprison someone is about $47,000 per year.

The Washington State Senate Labor and Commerce Committee is expected to hold a public hearing on this bill Wednesday afternoon.

Exceptions to the Fair Chance Act include people applying to work with children or in law enforcement.

Simmons understands the difficulty of finding a job after prison. Even though her registered nurse’s license was active, she says no one would hire her and in some cases rescinded job offers after finding out about her criminal record.

“Burger King was the only place that would hire me,” she relates. “And I had so many other skills and abilities, but because of my record, a lot of people would just discard my application, and so that’s why I decided to go to law school.”

Simmons graduated from law school over the summer but wasn’t allowed to take the Washington bar exam because of her record. She challenged the decision, and in November the Washington State Supreme Court ruled she could.

Simmons says a change in culture is needed so that employers understand the value of hiring people with a criminal history.

Twenty-four states, as well as Seattle and Spokane, have enacted laws similar to the Fair Chance Act.

— By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service (WA)

2 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent! This is a move I the right direction to keep people who have served their time from ending up back in the prison system.

  2. I sorta agree with this. If you went to prison, you payed your debt to society. However, there are obvious caveats which should concern an employer. What about parolees (technically the debt to society is not paid for those on parole)? What about those who demonstrated a patern of violence or theft? Can the City Hall ask an applicant for a clerk position if they’ve embezzled funds before? Are the police prohibited from asking if the new cop is a felon? Obviously public positions are immune to this new rule. Why cant a local bank ask if an applicant has been convicted of embezzlement? As the Sen Chase points out, there should be a culture change on hiring ex-cons. Men’s Warehouse proactively hires felons and, in interviews, CEO Zimmerman even argued that felons make better employees. I agree with him. As much as I agree that ex-convicts have payed their debt to society, I don’t think the First Amendment to the US Constitution should be legislated away; employers have the right to ask an applicant anything they want to. Applicants have the 4th Amendment Right not to answer. The US leads the Free World in incarceration rates. Cant the government decriminalize more stuff so that fewer people are incarcerated instead making it illegal to ask if someone’s incarcerated?

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