Gov. Shumlin Signs Executive Order to 'Ban the Box,' Highlights Expungement Bill
MONTPELIER - April 21, 2015 – In order to help people with criminal convictions find employment and build successful lives, Gov. Peter Shumlin today signed an Executive Order to implement a ‘ban the box’ state hiring policy and highlighted progress of a bill to expand Vermont’s expungement law.
The ‘ban the box’ Executive Order removes questions about criminal records from the very first part of job applications for state employment. Agencies will continue to conduct background checks, but only after an applicant has otherwise been found qualified for the position. The policy will prevent applicants from being immediately screened out of state jobs because of a criminal conviction. The policy will not apply to law enforcement, corrections, or other sensitive positions. A number of states, including Virginia, Georgia, and Nebraska, as well as the District of Columbia, have taken similar actions to combat hiring discrimination against workers with criminal records.
“This is about giving those who have paid their debt to society a fair chance at a good job,” Gov. Shumlin said. “Nobody wins when Vermonters are trapped in a cycle of unemployment and re-incarceration.”
The Governor was joined for the announcement by Sherry Papineau, a mother of three who was assaulted during a domestic dispute a few years ago. As a result of that incident, and trying to defend herself, Papineau plead to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. “As it turns out,” Papineau said, “the result of a misdemeanor offense is that it is incredibly difficult to find work… This years old misdemeanor charge still follows me around making it harder for me to find long-term stable employment…I am more than a check box on an application. I’m a mom, and a victim of domestic violence, and I want to work.”
The National Employment Law Project estimates 70 million American adults have arrests or convictions in their past that can make it difficult for them to obtain employment. A U.S. Labor Department survey found that an arrest early in life, regardless of whether convicted, can have significant negative effects on future prospects. According to the survey, being arrested and convicted by age 23 makes a person 11 percent less likely to own a home and 13 percent more likely to live below the poverty line by age 25. Those arrested and convicted before 23 also are less likely to graduate high school and move onto college, according to the survey.
Christopher Curtis, Co-Chair of the Governor’s Pathways from Poverty Council and Attorney at Vermont Legal Aid, which has made “Ban the box” hiring policies a priority, added, “Too often Vermonters are caught in a poverty trap with no access to employment – the result is that Vermonters can’t keep their housing or meet other important obligations,” he said. “’Ban the box’ can help open up new job opportunities for Vermonters.”
The Governor also highlighted a bill, S.115, to expand Vermont’s expungement law, making more Vermonters eligible to have criminal convictions removed from their records by a judge. In particular, the bill will allow people to seek expungement after one year, instead of the typical ten-year waiting period, if their offense is for conduct that is no longer a crime, such as possession of small amounts of marijuana. The House-passed version of the bill also allows those who were convicted when they were under 25 years old to seek expungement in five years if they have subsequently performed community or public service. The bill has passed the Senate and House and is in conference committee.
Gov. Shumlin has made creating a fairer, more effective criminal justice system a priority. Under his leadership Vermont passed a comprehensive pre-trial services law designed to bypass the court process for those people addicted to drugs and who can be safely treated in a community setting. The Governor also worked with his Pathways from Poverty Council and Chittenden County States Attorney TJ Donovan on a pilot Driver Restoration Day that helped hundreds of Vermonters get their licenses reinstated.