I know a man who has over 20 former convicts from federal prisons who either work for him or who have retired with their dignity, pride, and self-worth restored. Better yet, I know some of them, men who have done “hard time” in prisons so wretched none of us would dare to go. So on the surface I applaud City Councilman Yusef Hakeem for seeing ways to get formerly incarcerated men and women into the workplace.
He wants to “ban the box” on the city government’s employment documents that asks has the applicant ever been charged and found guilty of a crime. I’ll guarantee you there are more “good people” coming out of prison, who you would enjoy as a co-worker, than “bad people” who will commit another crime within months.
But when I talked to the man who has hired over 20 directly out of prison, he said banning the box is a bad idea. “First, when I am told of a prisoner who has the reputation as a good man who has made a mistake and would be a good fit for us, the biggest thing that makes it work is trust.
“I know he’s a felon, and that I’m taking a chance. But he also knows he is a felon and that I am giving him a chance. Through a mutual trust, I’ve been successful every time. Secondly, I owe it to my employees not to bring in a serial rapist, a man with long history of run-ins with police, or anybody – prison or not – who doesn’t match what we need to be successful.”
What works, the man explained to me after years of hiring “good” felons, is that it must be a very transparent two-way street. “I’ve had a few leave, always for better jobs or to be closer to their kids, but when I hear of an accountant who was cooking the books to pay for his child’s medical bills, or a guy who was selling thousands of dollars of dope only to make ‘easy money’ … there is no such thing … I’ll trust my instincts.”
Conversely, for Chattanooga’s City Council to “ban the box” is to throw both caution and normal due process to the wind. Let’s say there is a good-looking, bright-eyed guy in a new suit who shows much promise. But he also has a record of child abuse and sexual abuse. He wants to be a youth coordinator. Are you kidding me? You can’t dare give him a job in what he thinks will be “a field of opportunity.”
Not only is it unfair to our children, it is unfair to the ex-prisoner to put him into such “a field of temptation.” To “ban the box” would put the city in “a field of ignorance” and, if you don’t think there are some lawyers in this city who won’t file a lawsuit because we “banned the box,” you are not being realistic.
My heart bleeds for ex-cons because most of those I know are dear friends of mine. They did the crime, they did the time, and they need the opportunity to “make a dime.” But how about a gang-banger who is just out after “poppin’ a cap” in a hoodlum brother three years before. It is pretty obvious the hoodlum brother has just been waiting for the shooter to be released so he can become the shootee. You can’t let that happen in an office filled with your employees.
The “ban the box” campaign was started by the NAACP because what has happened to our black population is so horrifying it will make you want to weep:
FACT: The percentage of blacks in the United States in a 2009 Census study was 12-to-13 percent but blacks are 60 percent of approximately 2.1 million people who are in prison.
FACT: In 20 states, the proportion of blacks in prison exceeds the number of black residents in the same state.
FACT: The NAACP knows that there are six times the number of blacks in prison as whites but want to blame 85 percent of the country – the whites – for “inequity.” There is not one crime that is based on racial guidelines: Rape is rape. Murder is murder. Theft is theft. Drugs are drugs. Crime hardly caters to color. And, get this right, those who obeys our laws are not at fault, not at all.
FACT: One in every three blacks born in America right now can expect to go to prison sometime during their life. If a black male was born in 1951, there is a 67 percent chance he has been in prison.
FACT: In Chicago, year to date, there have been 2,725 shootings. From that, there have been 456 homicides. Police records show a dizzying 80 percent of the shootings have been black-on-black. – that's 2,180! According to the Chicago “shot clock,” a shooting now occurs every two hours, 54 minutes, and a homicide occurs every 17 hours, 11 minutes.
Think about this: to “ban the box” is to just sweep the problem under some rug. That solves absolutely nothing. No, what the NAACP needs to do is get control of the shootings. Law enforcement is doing all it can but – face it -- there has been a shooting in Chattanooga – I think I am right – every single day in this holiday week. The NAACP leaders ought to lead the charge to create the change.
I’m all over Hakeem’s reasoning: “We say we want people off the streets, we don’t want them involved in crime. Well, let’s get them involved with a job,” he said but the bigger question is why hide a potential train wreck and – especially in this day and time of internal terrorists – throw more caution to the wind?
In recent days the Governor of Kentucky, Steve Beshear, signed an executive order restoring the voting rights to approximately 180,000 felons. Felons of violent crimes, sex offenses, bribery and treason were exempted. (I don’t believe “ban the box” has any exemptions.)
But here’s the tickler: As Jon Green noted on American Blog, 5.85 million Americans were disenfranchised (not allowed to vote) in 2012 as felony convicts: Of those, 2.2 million are black. “Put another way, African Americans represent 38 percent of disenfranchised felons while accounting for just 13 percent of the population.”
I can see some crafty political positioning there but the reason it is mentioned is because a requirement to be employed by the city of Chattanooga is that the applicant must be able to vote. Right now felons are not allowed to vote but, if you were to “Ban the Box” who is to know? The whole exercise is fraught with problems and, if Nashville has already banned the box, good for them -- let’s study their results before the same mistake happens here.
To “ban the box” is a thought but it isn’t clear thinking. As Albert Einstein once said very clearly, “Smart people solve problems; geniuses do not allow them to occur.”