Tallahassee Re-Entry Employment Opportunities
What are the goals of the program?
During January 2015, the City of Tallahassee moved to adopt a new set of guidelines concerning how and when questions of criminal history and criminal background checks will be conducted with regard to hiring procedures for municipal employment. City leaders were acting to support the needs of people with criminal records who seek to enter the employment market and who often face a very high rejection level based solely on a "Yes" answer to a question about ANY past criminal convictions. City officials recognized that in 2014 over 1,700 formerly incarcerated individuals returned to Leon County, Florida and almost 200,000 more are expected to be released in Florida over the next five years.
These new hiring guidelines are in harmony with the federal Second Chance Act of 2007 which provides federal grants for programs and services that work to reduce recidivism and improve offender outcomes. The new guidelines do not restrict the city from asking questions about prior behavior nor does it guarantee anyone a job. Instead, it gives people a fair chance on how their skills and capabilities are evaluated and allows for meaningful conversations with job candidates to explain their circumstances and discuss their progress after involvement with the criminal justice system.
To help remove barriers for people with former criminal convictions to successfully find and secure a job, the city of Tallahassee approved procedures that alter steps in the hiring process. The policy change is meant to allow job candidates to be measured first and foremost on their merits and qualifications for the job for which they are applying, and allows for the city manager to inquire about criminal history and conduct background checks during the later stages of the interview process instead of at the start.
To help assess the future value of this hiring practice, the city has statistical data available from 2014. Of the 816 criminal background screenings that were conducted in 2014, excluding those for public safety jobs, 15 percent had criminal histories. Of that 15 percent, 11 percent were hired and 4 percent were denied, based on the nature of their background as it applied to positions.
The generic term for this kind of fair chance hiring reform is "ban the box," meaning that those with criminal records seeking employment will not be barred from consideration on the basis of any prior criminal history. Applicants generally are still required to undergo a criminal history check before being hired. By changing the process for disclosing a criminal record, the intention is to change the perception that those with criminal convictions will not be fairly considered for city and county government jobs or that they are in facts all but banned from applying for such positions in the first place.
A January 2015 report from the National Employment Law Project using data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics counts over 70 million individuals with either a federal or state arrest or conviction record. Further, a study by Professor Devah Pager found that the likelihood of a callback for an interview for an entry-level position drops by 50 percent for applicants with a criminal record ["The Mark of a Criminal Record," American Journal of Sociology 108(5), 2003.] The lack of employment was the single most negative determinant of recidivism, according to a 2011 study from the Pew Center for the States.
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