Jerry Blassingame, CEO of Soteria CDC. Photo provided.

The city of Greenville hasn’t asked applicants about past criminal convictions on applications in more than 10 years, and now, city council is hoping other employers will follow suit.

City council approved a resolution on June 24 supporting Ban the Box — a campaign aimed at removing the checkbox next to questions about criminal convictions on employment applications.

But Councilwoman Lillian Brock Flemming said the city quietly stopped asking applicants about their criminal history on initial applications more than a decade ago.

“Our city council recognizes that we have been working with citizens, and we have hired some returning citizens who have records for some positions — and not all of them for sanitation, and not all of them for other public works positions — because they were qualified and they were high-quality people,” Flemming said.

Lillian Brock Flemming

For certain positions, the city still is required to exclude candidates with certain convictions, such as law enforcement, firefighters, and positions dealing with children or vulnerable adults.

“We don’t check anybody’s background or anything until they are being interviewed and being considered for employment,” Flemming said.

The resolution acknowledges that more than 70 million Americans have criminal arrest records that make it more difficult to find employment.

According to the Ban the Box organization, more than 45 cities and counties in the United States have removed questions about convictions from their employment applications. The city council’s resolution acknowledges that more than 70 million Americans have criminal arrest records that make it more difficult to find employment, which increases the chances of recidivism.

“City council believes that hiring practices that unnecessarily consider the past criminal convictions of applicants can prevent willing and qualified job applicants from obtaining gainful employment,” the resolution said.

Flemming said the resolution came up in talks with Jerry Blassingame, the founder of Soteria Community Development Corp. — a Greenville-based organization that helps previously incarcerated men and women re-enter society.

The initiative doesn’t intend to stop employers from conducting background checks, but to have employers first interview qualified applicants before considering criminal history. Once employers do a background check, the Ban the Box initiative guides employers to consider factors such as severity of the crime, the age of the person when convicted, and the number of years since the conviction when deciding to hire someone.

Greenville City Council’s resolution also said the city should not consider arrests that don’t result in convictions.

Flemming said one of the primary goals of the initiative is to hopefully prevent bias from employers and encourage anyone who is qualified for a position to apply.

“We have a whole lot of people who have barriers to being employed,” Flemming said. “We felt it was great to support Ban the Box and say that you support it, even though we’ve actually been doing it [for a while].”

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