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Votes Not Counted: Bryan’s Story

Each post in SCSJ’s “Votes Not Counted” series tells the story of a person qualified to vote before the passage of North Carolina’s Monster Voter Suppression Law, whose ballot was unjustly denied this year. Below is Bryan’s story. If you know another eligible voter whose vote has been denied, please email sarah@scsj.org.

Bryan McGowan is a North Carolina resident and a distinguished combat veteran.  Bryan served 22 years with the United States Marine Corps, was deployed four times to both Afghanistan and Iraq, and is disabled as a result of his military service.  Bryan wanted to exercise his right to vote during North Carolina’s early voting period but was denied the opportunity to do so.  He was denied the right to vote because of the elimination of same day registration in the new voting law (H.B. 589), which formerly allowed voters to register and vote at the same time during the early voting period.

Bryan was stationed at Camp LeJeune, near Jacksonville, NC, from 2005 until 2010.  He used same day registration to register and vote at the same time in the 2008 presidential election. In 2010, his military commitments required him to relocate to Georgia, from where he was again deployed once again.  He finished his twenty two years in the United States Marine Corps in the spring of 2014.  After retiring from the military,

Bryan moved to the Western North Carolina mountains in July 2014.  On the first day of early voting, (October 23rd), Bryan went to an early voting site and advised polling officials of his new address in North Carolina, fully expecting to vote that day.  Bryan did not know that changes to same day registration were made and, relying on the same day registration option, he expected to register and vote in 2014 as he had in 2008.

However, and despite his decades of military service to the United States and North Carolina, Bryan was prevented from voting this year.  The poll worker told Bryan, “it’s the law,” and that he could not vote in this election without same day registration.

After losing his right to vote in this election, Bryan felt betrayed by his country—the country he fought for.  He simply wanted to exercise his constitutional right.  “All I want to do is cast my vote.”  Bryan is discouraged that changes to North Carolina’s election laws are preventing people from voting.

Bryan is not alone in his story of disenfranchisement.  He believes this change to the voting law is “voter suppression” and he wishes to share his story so others understand the real impact of the new election laws.  He simply wants to vote and Bryan deserves the opportunity to do so.

Amber wants everyone to understand that voters are being denied their constitutional rights because of bad decisions being made by Raleigh lawmakers.

Votes Not Counted: Amber’s Story

Today SCSJ is introducing our “Votes Not Counted” series. Each post tells the story of a person qualified to vote before the passage of North Carolina’s Monster Voter Suppression Law, whose ballot was unjustly denied this year. Below is Amber’s story. If you know another eligible voter whose vote has been denied, please email sarah@scsj.org.

Amber Alsobrooks is a lifelong North Carolina resident and has been voting since she turned 18. In this November’s election, she has been denied the right to vote because of the law passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2013 to “combat voter fraud.” That new law (H.B. 589) ended same day registration—the ability of voters to register (or to change their registration from county-to-county) during early voting.

Amber is a married 42-year-old who is currently in the process of getting a graduate degree in clinical health psychology. She has worked for many years providing counseling and therapy for college students and people with serious illness, helping her fellow North Carolinians through challenging times in their lives.

Amber and her husband own a home in Orange County, but she had to move to Boone in the fall of 2012 to do coursework at Appalachian State University. She lived there until May 2014. She registered to vote there, and voted in the November 2012 elections.

After finishing her coursework, she moved back home, and is currently doing a clinical rotation at Wake Forest Baptist Health. On Saturday, October 25, Amber and her husband went to vote at an early voting site in Orange County—her husband got to vote, and she did not.

When she checked in to vote, Amber thought she could update her address. She was a registered voter in Watauga County, and had voted there before. She’d voted in Orange County many times before that, before she moved to Boone. Amber had heard about the repeal of same day registration, but she thought that only affected Election Day. Amber believed that by going to early voting ahead of the election, she was being proactive. Instead, Amber was told that she missed the registration deadline for voting in Orange County. She asked about voting where she was currently registered, but was informed that she could not vote there because she didn’t live there anymore. Amber was told she was just out of luck.

Amber is heartbroken that she is being forced to sit on the sidelines during this important election. She views voting as an important civic duty—one that she wants to do. Like hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians in today’s mobile society, she had to relocate for school and to advance her career. Had same-day registration been available, Amber would have been able to vote, just like she has for years.

There is no reason that Amber should be disenfranchised, and she is not alone. Amber wants everyone to understand that voters are being denied their constitutional rights because of bad decisions being made by Raleigh lawmakers. Amber is sharing her story in order to fight back against bad voting laws.

If you know an eligible voter whose vote has been unfairly denied, please ask them to tell their story! Contact sarah@scsj.org for more information.

app user

Election Collection: the mobile app that defends your vote

Decreased data storage costs, ever-rising mobile device ownership rates, and campaign assemblages’ unprecedented reliance on actual human beings to transmit personalized political messages to voters have all combined to position mobile data collection as an essential option and logical next step for social and political groups of every persuasion. Given the new challenges inherent to post-Shelby County legal arguments, nonpartisan voting rights groups in particular are well positioned to adopt and pioneer such data collection tools in service to anti-voter suppression work. To that end, Southern Coalition for Social Justice presents Election Collection, a data gathering initiative that uses a customized location-based mobile data collection app to report, track, and rapidly respond to voting irregularities and instances of voter suppression at polling places for the 2014 General Election.

Help us fight back against voter suppression and make this app available to as many volunteers as possible on Election Day!

At the core of Election Collection is a customized app that uses a smartphone or tablet’s GPS or wireless signal to plot each contact report in a dynamic map environment. SCSJ, in cooperation with several partner groups, is leading ongoing training sessions for teams of Election Collection volunteers to use the mobile app to gather information from voters on-site at polling locations nationwide and nimbly relay the status of Election Day events in real time to both in-house legal response teams and to fellow volunteers on the ground. On Election Day, trained volunteers will be able to log in to personalized accounts and record incidents of voter suppression using its listed forms. The intuitive app is easy to navigate as it follows a simple form survey workflow that should be familiar to those who have ever filled out a form on a website. Volunteers can select from a wide range of text fields, drop-down menus, multiple-selection buttons, and photo and audio file attachments to relate a highly accurate and comprehensive account of events that they observe.

Election Collection Screenshots

Each voter contact that volunteers submit uploads immediately to the Election Collection cloud database and mapping service, where it is then relayed to or conveniently accessed by remote teams of legal monitors at different locations throughout the country. There, attorneys can effectively respond to voter problems as they arise using the desktop interface in either a map or spreadsheet view.

Desktop Map box

Desktop Data

Polling place monitors can similarly view an up-to-the-minute map of recorded incident reports on their smartphones using the mobile app.

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Flexibility is as much a hallmark of Election Collection as immediacy. The mobile app is designed for adaptability and supports multiple configurations of itself to ensure that a voter’s information is collected through a framework  appropriate to community needs. Different configurations display forms that ask questions common to all, but also include questions that can provide SCSJ’s community-based partner organizations with additional information on locally-specific issues relating to their  voting rights work. Potentially, there’s much to be gained from sharing not only the widespread distributions of what common impediments to the ballot SCSJ and project participants already expect to occur, regardless the geographic site or scale, but also those local policies or practices that may suppress voting more patchily, in local geographic patterns. Identifying these local-level patterns can alert voting rights groups to suppression tactics previously unidentified as threatening the franchise at larger geographic scales.

Looking past November and aside from the data collected, Election Collection as a project may prove valuable for more than just identifying potential plaintiffs in future voting rights cases or documenting the negative effects of pernicious state voting laws. As a process model for collaborative data collection design and dissemination, it’s hoped that it will be a helpful mechanism for developing and strengthening coalitions like the Southern Leaders for Voter Engagement (SOLVE) and for building and directing lasting coalition-led social movements.

If you are interested in being trained as a volunteer for election day app use, please email SarahMoncelle@southerncoalition.org.

Federal Interagency Reentry Council

Formerly Incarcerated Leaders Have Historic Meeting with Federal Interagency Reentry Council

The civil rights movement had the Big Six – Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Whitney Young, and other visionaries – advocating for the end of discriminatory treatment toward black and brown people. On Monday, October 20th we saw the emergence of the Big Eight – formerly incarcerated leaders at the forefront of a new civil and human rights movement – ending the structural discrimination faced by people with criminal records. These leaders include Daryl Atkinson, Susan Burton, Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, Norris Henderson, Manuel LaFontaine, Glenn Martin, Vivian Nixon, and Dorsey Nunn. In the first meeting of its kind, these formerly incarcerated leaders met with senior officials of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council (Reentry Council) to advocate for a set of reforms to help end the 2nd class status of people with criminal records.

The Reentry Council, which represents over twenty federal agencies, was created by Attorney General Eric Holder in 2011 to remove federal barriers to reentry. SCSJ’s, Daryl V. Atkinson, a member of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement (FICPM), took the lead in organizing this historic multi-agency meeting. Among the federal attendees were Karol Mason, Assistant Attorney General, Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and Roy Austin, White House Domestic Policy Counsel. In total, representatives from over 13 federal agencies were in attendance at this historic meeting where leaders in the criminal justice reform movement advocated for the end to the structural discrimination faced by people with criminal records in employment, education, housing, and voting.

Atkinson focused on employment, highlighting Durham’s success around “Ban the Box”. Atkinson presented SCSJ’s new White Paper highlighting the case study of Durham’s successful “Ban the Box” campaign. The paper details the steps in creating and implementing a successful campaign, especially the importance of building power within marginalized communities. “We believe having directly affected people leading the campaign in every aspect, including the development of an effective policy, was a critical component to the successful hiring outcomes produced by Durham’s “Ban the Box” campaign,” said Daryl Atkinson.

The meeting was widely heralded as a success, and participants are hopeful that the lines of communication between formerly incarcerated leaders and federal policy makers will remain open. Click here to read SCSJ’s new white paper on the success of Durham’s Ban the Box campaign.

vote here

Early Voting at Appalachian State University!

On October 21, 2014 the North Carolina Court of Appeals REFUSED to stay an order of Superior Court Judge Stephens requiring an early voting site on the campus of Appalachian State University in Boone, (Watauga County) North Carolina.  On October 22, the State Board of Elections held an emergency meeting where they approved a plan that will comply with the Judge’s ruling, adding an early voting site at the Appalachian State University student union.  The North Carolina Supreme Court became involved, but the Board of Elections decision to move forward with the App State early voting site is final. Early Voting starts on October 23.  Here’s what Judge Stephens found:

* The early voting plan Respondent adopted for Watauga County affects not only a substantial right, but a constitutional right of young voters in that county who are students at Appalachian State University (ASU).

* The majority plan of the Watauga County Board of Elections on its face appears to have as a major purpose the elimination of an early voting site on the ASU campus. Based on this record, the court can conclude no other intent from that board’s decision other than to discourage student voting. A decision based on that intent is a significant infringement of students’ rights to vote and rises to the level of a constitutional violation of the right to vote.

* The early voting plan submitted by the majority members of the Watauga County Board of Elections was arbitrary and capricious. All the credible evidence indicates that the sole purpose of that plan was to eliminate an early voting site on campus so as to discourage student voting and, as such, it is unconstitutional.

 

Left of Black

Left of Black: Mass Incarceration, Voting Rights & State Sanctioned Violence

Left of Black host and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal is joined in-studio by Daryl Atkinson, Senior Staff Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in North Carolina.  In a conversation about mass incarceration, the erosion of voting rights and State sanctioned violence Aktinson asserts that “the State sanctioned violence that we saw in Ferguson…cannot happen outside of the larger context of putting 2.2 million people in cages.”

Left of Black is a weekly Webcast hosted by Mark Anthony Neal and produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University.
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Episodes of Left of Black are also available for free download in @ iTunes U
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Follow Left of Black on Twitter: @LeftofBlack
Follow Mark Anthony Neal on Twitter: @NewBlackMan

 

Follow Southern Coalition for Social Justice on Twitter: @SCSJ
Clean Slate Clinic Facebook Graphic

Clean Slate Clinic November 1 in Raleigh

Do you have a criminal record?  Has your criminal record held you back from getting a job?  There will be a free Clean Slate Clinic on Saturday, November 1 – stop by to see if you are eligible to clean up your record.  Attorneys will be on hand to speak with you directly. Clean Slate services are FREE and the event is open to the public.  There is no age limit, but we do not process juvenile records. The first 150 pre-registered people are guaranteed same-day consultation with an attorney; all others will be contacted after the event to schedule their free appointment to discuss their record with an attorney.

Please pre-register by October 24.

What: Clean Slate Clinic

When: Saturday, November 1 from 8am-1pm

Where: Capital Area NC Works Career Center
1830 Tillery Place
Raleigh, NC 27604

Who Should Attend: People with a criminal record who want to find out if they’re eligible for free legal services to improve their ability to secure employment, housing, education, and other services.

What is Clean Slate work and why is it important?

Involvement in the criminal justice system has negative side effects beyond a court case and possible conviction.  Arrests and convictions trigger an additional set of punishments known as collateral consequences. These consequences operate outside of the criminal justice context even after an individual has served his or her jail or prison sentence, paid fees and fines, and completed parole or probation. Unresolved legal matters impede an individual’s ability to get a driver’s and/or employment license, or access to public benefits.  Other barriers include exclusion from housing opportunities, extreme difficulty finding a job, and in some cases lack of access to higher education – all due to a criminal record. To combat this problem, SCSJ’s Clean Slate Program supplements the important services provided by our partner organizations with direct legal services and advocacy in the following areas: expungment and Certificates of Relief (COR), employment or occupational licensing hearings and driver’s license restoration.

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Learn more in our Clean Slate Clinic Handout. Download a copy of our Clean Slate Flyer to share with your community!

The November 1 event is our first Clean Slate Clinic in Raleigh. Please help us make it a success by registering now!

This event is presented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and our partners including Community Success Initiative and SpiritHouse Inc.

 

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From Mayberry to Martial Law: The Transfer of Military Surplus to Domestic Police

“The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.” – James Madison, the Federalist Papers

As Americans, we’ve always been leery of using the military to police our citizens. But some critics say that the “militarization of law enforcement” is happening right in front of our eyes. Media coverage of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the controversial police killing of teenager Michael Brown, displayed the St. Louis County law enforcement agencies as a well-armed paramilitary force. But if the Founding Fathers were so worried about a threat of domestic tyranny, how did we get here? We took a look to figure it out.

So what does local law enforcement have to do with the United States military?

In 1997, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act. Tucked away in that law is the 1033 Program.

The 1033 Program allows the Law Enforcement Support Office to transfer excess Department of Defense property to law enforcement agencies across the United States and its territories.

The Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) serves as a bridge between the U.S. military and local law enforcement agencies and is overseen by the Pentagon.

The 1033 Program started with the War on Drugs. Congress decided that if law enforcement personnel were waging a drug war, they needed to be outfitted like warriors.

In fact, the LESO slogan is: “Transferring Property from the Warfighter to the Crimefighter”

As well as: “Get with the Program”

 

How much surplus are we talking about here?

By the end of 2014, the 1033 Program will have transferred over $5 billion worth of military property to the police.

Through June of 2014, the 1033 Program had transferred almost $750 million (¾ of a billion dollars) worth of equipment.

  • That’s nearly double 2013’s entire yearly total of $450 million!
  • (But to really put it into perspective) It’s around the same dollar value as all of the equipment transferred in the program from the year 2000 until 2007!

At this rate, 1.5 billion dollars of military surplus will be transferred to domestic police forces in 2014 alone. That’s almost one third (30%) of the entire 17 years worth of transfers… in one year!

[According to the LESO, an original acquisition value “refers to the amount the military services paid for the property.”]

 

But the police departments only get what they need, right?

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there’s around 18,000 total local law enforcement agencies in the United States.

  • The LESO claims that around 8,000 of those agencies (nearly half of US police departments) are involved in the program.
  • But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says that there’s actually around 17,000 agencies (about 94%) that have received property from the Department of Defense.

The ACLU might be on to something: The Department of Defense admits that the LESO records are far from accurate: An Inspector General logistics report took a random sample of equipment transfer records and found that 3 out of 4 (74%) were incorrect. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 43% – police received more property than they were approved for
  • 21% – no approval record at all
  • 8% – mismatched data entry errors
  • 2% – police received less property than they were approved for
  • Only 26% were correctly accounted for

This could explain the case of the phantom MRAP

  • During the Ferguson protests, a LENCO-brand Mine-Resistant-Ambush-Protected (or MRAP) “Bearcat” vehicle was photographed in the streets.
  • But Mike O’Connell, the communications director for the Missouri Department of Public Safety told Newsweek that he “does not know” where it came from since St. Louis County law enforcement agencies have not acquired any MRAPs through the 1033 Program.
  • This mystery MRAP wasn’t cheap, either: the vehicles come with a $733,000 sticker price.

St. Louis County police are not the only ones acquiring MRAPs.

  • There are over 600 MRAPs across the U.S.
  • Pine County Minnesota (Population: 29,218) acquired a MRAP in 2013 to use for search and rescue operations in Pine County’s swampy areas. It has since been used for a zombie apocalypse training event.
  • Ohio State University Police got one in order to provide “presence” on football game days.

But its not just MRAPs that local law enforcement agencies are picking up from LESO. They can acquire anything from small arms pistols to grenade launchers.

  • Bloomingdale, Georgia (population 2,713) received four grenade launchers through the 1033 Program. Bloomingdale Police Chief Roy Pike explains that it’s a way to send a message—that “officers are armed to meet any threat,” but admits that in the 20 years he’s served Bloomingdale, the police force has never “had to use deadly force against anybody.”
  • Police forces in Keene, New Hampshire (population 23,000) justified their acquisition of an armored tactical vehicle as integral to the town’s safety, saying they needed it to patrol the annual Pumpkin Festival “and other dangerous situations.”
  • The tiny farming community of Morven, Georgia (population 532) has grabbed over $4 million worth of surplus including three boats, scuba gear, rescue rafts, and dozens of life preservers. The town’s deepest body of water is an ankle-deep creek.

Don’t they need it to fight terrorism here at home though?

Oxford County in rural western Maine received an MRAP through the program along with six other law enforcement agencies across the state. Oxford County Sheriff George Cayer explained that “the western foothills of Maine … currently face a previously unimaginable threat from terrorist activities.”

It seems that $218 million wasn’t enough for Sheriff Cayer and the rest of Maine’s local law enforcement to fight against such “unimaginable” threats of domestic terrorism—that’s the amount of money shelled out by the Department of Homeland Security since the department’s inception in 2002.

In fact, the entire nation has received over $34 billion in federal grants to help local police forces combat terrorist activities.

How can these small towns afford three-quarter-million-dollar armored fighting vehicles?

The price tag is “FREE.”

All this equipment is considered surplus “there is no cost to local taxpayers since they’ve already paid for the equipment with their federal taxes.” The law enforcement agencies that receive it pay for the shipping and maintenance. That’s it!

The Pentagon says that more than 1/3 of everything transferred through the 1033 Program is brand new.

So instead of small towns across the nation paying sticker price, they’re receiving the equipment at a fraction of the cost.

Watertown, Connecticut (population 22,514) recently acquired its own MRAP for shipping and maintenance costs of $2,800. Talk about a fire sale—that’s an unbelievable 99.6% discount!

 

Isn’t it better to use this equipment instead of destroying it?

Not so, according to four-star Marine General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr.:

  • MRAPs cost around $10,000 to destroy in the field (in places like Afghanistan and Iraq).
  • But it can cost up to $50,000 to bring each one back to the States.

In other words, the tax payers could save $40,000 per MRAP by destroying them in the field!

With 600 MRAPs in the U.S., that’s a 24 million dollars loss for just one type of surplus product transferred.
[ (cost to ship:$50,000 x 600 = $30 million) - (cost to destroy:$10,000 x 600 = $6 million) = ($24 million) ]

 


Martial Law


Sources:

Martial Law
Source: CriminalJusticeDegreeHub.com

El Pueblo

Raleigh: Bilingual Candidate Forum to Address Concerns of Latino Voters

Bilingual Candidate Forum to Highlight Public Safety

Community Invited to Hear from Candidates for Sheriff, District Attorney, and Clerk of Court

Raleigh, NC – El Pueblo, Inc., The League of Women Voters, and the National Council of La Raza will host a bilingual candidate forum to highlight public safety, provide an opportunity for voters to hear directly from candidates, and increase participation in the upcoming elections.

WHO: Candidates for Wake County Sheriff, Clerk of Superior Court, and District Attorney District 10, Latino and non-Latino community members who want to learn more about the candidates’ platforms

WHAT: Candidate Forum

WHEN: Saturday, October 18th, 6-8 pm

WHERE: Church of the Good Shepherd

125 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, NC

Simultaneous interpretation (English-Spanish) and childcare will be provided. Please reserve child care in advance by emailing angeline@elpueblo.org or calling El Pueblo at (919) 835-1525.

Hosted by:

El Pueblo, Inc.: El Pueblo is a non-profit organization dedicated to Latinos’ achieving positive social change by building consciousness, capacity, and community action. www.elpueblo.org

The League of Women Voters of Wake County: The League of Women Voters of Wake County is a nonpartisan organization whose purposes are to encourage the active participation of all citizens in government, to work to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and to influence public policy through education and advocacy. www.lwvwake.org

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR): NCLR—the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States—works to improve opportunities for Latinos. For more information on NCLR, please visit www.nclr.org, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Ban the Box crop

Why #BanTheBox Matters: Durham’s Success Story

Want proof that “ban the box” policies help people with criminal records secure good jobs while helping employers hire good workers? You’ll find it in Durham, North Carolina, where government hiring of people with records has increased dramatically since the city and county removed questions about prior convictions from job applications.

In 2011, the last year before the city took that step, only 2 percent of hires had records. Under the new policy, that figure rose to 4.5 percent in 2012, 9.4 percent in 2013, and 15.5 percent in the first quarter of 2014. Since adopting a similar policy in late 2012, the county has more than doubled the number of new hires with records.

And it has happened without compromising public safety, the biggest argument against banning the box. There has been no increase in workplace crime in either the city or the county government, and no employee has been fired because of illegal activity.

The Durham results mark the latest success in a growing national movement to eliminate an employment barrier that has no benefits but enormous costs for formerly incarcerated people, their families and communities, local and state economies, and overall growth.

Durham graph

“Banning the box” builds stronger economies

About 70 million Americans, disproportionately African American and Latino, have conviction records. Of the roughly 700,000 people who are released from state prisons annually, as many as 75 percent will still have no job a year later — in large part because they are effectively disqualified the minute they check off an application box indicating a past arrest or conviction. Steady employment reduces the risk of recidivism, and so do “ban the box” policies.  A new study of Hawaii’s 1998 “ban the box” law found it lowered the odds of repeat offending by 57 percent.

The economy benefits, too. A 2011 study found that putting just 100 formerly incarcerated people back to work would increase their lifetime earnings by $55 million, increase their income tax contributions by $1.9 million, and boost sales tax revenues by $770,000, while saving $2 million a year by keeping them out of the criminal justice system.

Evidence like this has persuaded more than 10 states, 60 cities and counties, and some of the nation’s largest employers, including Wal-Mart and Target, to remove questions about arrests and convictions from initial job applications. In North Carolina, six additional jurisdictions, including the city governments of Raleigh and Fayetteville, have followed Durham’s lead.  Grassroots advocates are gearing up for a campaign in 2015 to remove the box on state government job applications.

“This work is going to benefit our entire state and our entire country, because our economic vitality is at stake,” said Daryl V. Atkinson, an attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “It is so important to have good policies that create an environment where everyone can be successful.”

Skills and talent trump past convictions

“Ban the box” policies do not prohibit employers from checking on a prospective employee’s background. They simply delay it, giving applicants with records a fair shot at proving they are qualified for the job. The strongest policies (like in Minnesota) cover private employers as well as government employees. Durham’s policies apply only to public employees, not government contractors or other businesses.

Under the policies, prospective employees are not asked about convictions on job applications or during interviews. A background check is conducted only after the applicant has received a conditional job offer. One reason the policies are so successful is that the vetting process includes important civil rights and privacy protections for applicants:

  • They have the right to check the accuracy of the record and to submit statements about rehabilitation.
  • The human resources department conducts the background check. The applicant’s prospective supervisor and co-workers never learn about conviction history.
  • Only a top government official may rescind an offer of employment because of a record, and only after establishing a direct relationship between the crime and the job. This almost never happens — in Durham County, 96 percent of people with records who were recommended for a job ultimately were hired, even after the background check.

“Skills and qualifications trump a record,” Atkinson said.

He should know. As a college student in 1996, he pled guilty to a first-time nonviolent drug offense and spent 40 months in prison under Alabama’s mandatory sentencing law. The consequences of incarceration followed him long after his release: his driver’s license was suspended, he was denied federal student aid and admission to numerous schools, and he was turned away from jobs.

But with strong family and community support he persisted and eventually graduated from college and law school. Atkinson is licensed to practice law in Minnesota and North Carolina. Recently, he was honored as a White House Champion for Change for his work to help people with records overcome barriers to success.

“I tell my story not to give kudos to myself but to illustrate the human capacity of people who are put in cages every day,” Atkinson said. “Not everyone will be blessed with the familial and community support that I had, which is why it’s important that society create secondary support systems and adopt effective reentry policies like ‘ban the box’ for people leaving the criminal justice system.”

This PolicyLink post appeared on October 9, 2014.