Nashville Bans the Box on Metro Government Job Applications!

Members and supporters of Democracy Nashville after their victory.

Members and supporters of Democracy Nashville after their victory.

Today, after a year-and-a-half-long grassroots campaign that garnered support from nearly 10,000 community members and approximately 70 congregations and organizations, Metro’s Civil Service Commission voted to direct Metro Human Resources to implement a Ban the Box or “fair chance hiring” policy that will remove questions regarding criminal background from the first stage of applications for most Metro Government jobs. The provision will go into effect no later than January 1, 2016. While different from the initially attempted charter referendum strategy, the end result is the same: Metro Nashville has added its name to more than 100 cities across the U.S. that have adopted policies that reduce barriers to employment for persons with criminal convictions.

Jackie Sims, of Democracy Nashville’s campaign, celebrated today’s decision. “We are so glad the Commission listened to residents of our city and voted to let people who have already served their time become contributing members of our community again,” said Sims. “We all make mistakes. We shouldn’t be judged for them—and locked out of work and opportunity—for the rest of our lives.”

While Sims and other Democracy Nashville members are proud of their campaign, team member Kenneth Caine noted that there still remains work to be done. “Metro banned the box because the people of Nashville wanted it. But we still need MDHA and NES to do the same,” Caine said. “Metro also needs to ban the box on all city contracts, and on all job applications across the city, like New York City just did.”

After the Commission voted to direct Metro HR to implement a fair chance hiring protocol, Commissioner Billye Sanders publicly praised the decision, saying it is good that Metro Government can model this policy, and adding that she hopes it will influence the private sector to do the same.

Today’s Civil Service Commission vote in favor of a ban the box policy comes after Democracy Nashville and an extensive team of community volunteers gathered enthusiastic support from nearly 10,000 residents in some of Nashville’s most economically disenfranchised communities. Canvassing primarily in African American neighborhoods in North, East, and South Nashville, team members encountered thousands of community members who have seen firsthand the disabling effects of the criminal justice system on those who have served time, making today’s vote a sign of hope for scores of Nashville residents eager to create new lives for themselves and their families.

* * *

After learning in June of this year that its charter referendum campaign did not acquire an adequate number of valid signatures (due to high numbers of purged voters whose signatures were rendered invalid) and therefore would not appear on the ballot, members of grassroots community group Democracy Nashville met in July with Metro Nashville’s Human Resources department to propose that they implement a Ban the Box policy for the city. Metro HR put Ban the Box on the agenda for the August meeting of the Metro Nashville Civil Service Commission, which oversees all city hiring policy. Democracy Nashville developed information on fair chance hiring policies across the country for the commissioners and appeared before the Commission on August 11 and September 8.

At an October 13 public hearing, commissioners heard overwhelming support for a Ban the Box policy from community members directly affected by the criminal justice system, ministers working with restorative justice and youth, nonprofit leaders facilitating prisoner reentry, lawyers, organizers, and activists. All four commissioners, as well as representatives from Metro Human Resources, also spoke with affirmation about the good that would come from delaying inquiries into criminal convictions until someone has been interviewed and is a candidate for hire. One month later, commissioners voted unanimously to ban the box on Metro Government employment applications.

Democracy Nashville’s grassroots efforts received their start with Council Member Erica Gilmore’s efforts in Metro Council. In 2012, Gilmore sponsored and passed a non-binding resolution asking the Civil Service Commission to establish an “Equal Employment” interviewing policy that would limit discrimination against persons with criminal convictions. In 2014, Gilmore sponsored a charter referendum to ban the box inquiring into criminal convictions on Metro Government employment applications. The referendum failed by only four votes. In the wake of this important effort, Democracy Nashville took up the fight by partnering with approximately 70 faith communities and community organizations to secure enough signatures to get the referendum on the ballot. After gathering an inadequate number of signatures, Democracy Nashville approached Metro HR.

When asked whether they support a Ban the Box charter referendum at an April 29 mayoral candidates forum, six out of seven of Nashville’s candidates for mayor enthusiastically pledged their support for the measure, including Nashville’s new mayor, Megan Barry.

According to the National Employment Law Project, more than 16 states and 100 cities and counties have passed “Ban the Box” legislation and policies like Nashville’s. Fair chance hiring policies, or “Ban the Box” measures, reduce barriers that keep people who have already served their time from obtaining the employment that enables their stability and the wellbeing of the communities to which they return. Groups across the country agree that employment is one of the most important ways of reducing prison recidivism. Additionally, Ban the Box measures hold the potential to improve local economies. In Durham, NC, a study conducted in the years following the passage of Ban the Box legislation found that the city’s revenue stream increased due to the influx of hundreds of persons with criminal convictions into the city’s tax base.

Beyond the economic benefits, studies find that Ban the Box measures prove no risk to public safety due to safeguards within such policies, and that people with felonies, contrary to common presuppositions, tend to be model employees who exceed employer expectations.

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