Last Saturday, I attended an interfaith clergy event at the Pasadena First AME Church, “Justice Not Jails.” JNJ is a focused justice action program challenging mass incarceration in California. One local effort is committed to removing the criminal history check-box on job applications, so the formerly incarcerated may have a better shot at getting a job after they are released. Often applications are tossed aside once the reviewer sees that box checked off, without considering one’s qualifications and skills first. The following is a letter I wrote for which I’m in the process of collecting Pasadena clergy signatures . . .
June 10, 2013
Dear City Manager Michael Beck,
Thank you for being of such good service to our community, by considering the recommendations of Pasadena’s citizens and civic leaders. We know that the unified urging of the clergy community will be of particular interest to you, and that is why we write.
As you know, AB 218 recently passed the State Assembly, the bill that removes the check-mark box on job applications that asks for criminal history. While a small thing, it could have a positive impact on employment opportunities for the formerly incarcerated, since it allows an applicant’s qualifications to be considered first, rather than the “X” they have on their back that often precludes a fair consideration.
Employing qualified applicants who are formerly incarcerated in Pasadena is in everyone’s best interest. Our community benefits as a whole when the formerly incarcerated are able to provide for their families crime-free and be reintegrated into productive society. As conventional hiring practices stand, a system of high-rate recidivism is prevalent and entrenched. We, the faith community of Pasadena, believe that we as a society must do our part to meet the individual seeking reintegration half-way, by changing policies that unfairly preclude fair consideration of one’s skills and qualifications.
Until we, together as a community, take steps to facilitate the rehabilitation of criminals who seek it, we are perpetuating a system that perpetuates a criminal underclass. Mr. City Manager, we hope you will do what is in your power to change. Please create an order that removes the criminal history box from initial job applications. Such a simple measure can have a powerful and positive impact on many of Pasadena’s families and residents.
Thank you for your serious consideration.
-Rev. Hannah Petrie