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Richland County votes to ‘Ban the Box,’ won’t ask job applicants about criminal past

Former criminal, now a politician, explains support for North Carolina’s ‘Ban the Box’ bill

Charles Evans was convicted of several felonies in the 1990s after he became addicted to drugs and started embezzling from his job. He's now a Cumberland County Commissioner and a prominent supporter of a bill that, if passed, makes it easier for
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Charles Evans was convicted of several felonies in the 1990s after he became addicted to drugs and started embezzling from his job. He's now a Cumberland County Commissioner and a prominent supporter of a bill that, if passed, makes it easier for

Richland County has become the latest local government in America to “ban the box.”

South Carolina’s second largest county will no longer ask future job applicants if they have a criminal history, joining a national movement meant to give those leaving prison an easier route back into the workforce.

Richland County Council approved a change Tuesday to drop the question about criminal convictions from job applications.

“Richland County is known as a county that supports rehabilitation,” said Councilwoman Yvonne McBride, who sponsored the measure, “and this supports our philosophy to give people a second chance when they have paid their dues to society.”

In approving the change, Richland County joins 150 other cities and counties and 33 states that have also banned the box, according to the county.

During his State of the City address In January, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin called for businesses in the capital city to drop criminal history questions.

Lester Young spoke Tuesday in favor of the change, telling council members he knows from personal experience how difficult it is to come out of prison and find a decent-paying job.

“As a former incarcerated person for 22 years, returning back home and seeking employment is a very difficult thing,” he said, arguing that many families are “struggling with employment, not because an individual is lazy or unwilling to work, but because they have a criminal record.”

“One’s criminal conviction should not be a permanent stain on someone’s background,” Young said.

The vote to drop the question passed 9-1 with Councilman Bill Malinowski voting against.

Human Resources Director Dwight Hanna said the county will still conduct criminal background checks on all job prospects before they are hired, but said dropping the question box would allow more people to advance in the interview process and be judged on their qualifications.

“Once a record is checked, sometimes a decision is made not to hire, if it’s something relevant to the job they’re doing, like if you handle cash but you were convicted of stealing or embezzlement,” Hanna said.

“(But) maybe you were a teenager who went to Myrtle Beach, had too much fun and did something, and it’s on their record but it was 20 years ago. Do we want to hold that against them?”

Malinowski questioned if the change was necessary if the county continues to conduct background checks before hiring, but acting county director John Thompson said dropping the question would stop any bias “in the back of your mind” from keeping a qualified applicant from being considered.

“This removes the subjective ability to be unfair,” said Councilwoman Dalhi Myers. “If we’re going to put you into finance and you were fired for embezzlement, that’s not a good fit, but if you go out to repair potholes, why would it matter? Either we believe in a second chance or we don’t.”

The county also voted to drop a question about salary history from job applications. That motion from Councilwoman Allison Terracio follows concerns that women are still paid less than men in a comparable position, and an initial salary influenced by gender bias can follow a job applicant for the rest of her career.

Dropping the question would allow the county to set a fairer salary for each job applicant based on the position they apply for, according to a report from the county’s administration and finance committee.

Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.

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