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City urged to 'ban the box' could effect ex-prisoners' chances of employment; may be illegal 

  During a panel discussion of "Louisiana INCarcerated," The Times-Picayune's eight-part series on Louisiana's prison system, which was held at Loyola University's Roussel Hall June 20, the conversation turned to the practice of businesses inquiring about applicants' criminal histories — specifically, its effects on former inmates' post-prison employment and, ultimately, criminal recidivism.

  Norris Henderson, executive director of Voice of the Ex-Offender, called on city government to pass a law requiring city contractors to remove from their job applications a check box asking about arrests and convictions.

  "The city should take the lead," Henderson said.

  The practice is very common but, according to some observers, legally questionable. As The New York Times reported June 21, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new guidelines in April requiring that employers cease making blanket criminal background inquiries. Instead, the EEOC wants prospective employers to ask only about arrests or convictions relevant to a specific job.

  Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who was on the panel, said he frequently gets calls from businesses and industry groups looking for details on applicants' arrest histories. Gusman said he refers those calls to his office's attorneys.

  Henderson said such practices, along with state laws that deny certain trade licenses for convicts, virtually assure that many convicts will end up in prison again. "When you have these policies in place to impede people's progress, it's vicious," he said. "We're setting people up to fail."

— Charles Maldonado

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