News Congratulations to the City of Allentown for getting behind Mayor Pawlowski’s initiative to “Ban the Box!”

Congratulations to the City of Allentown for getting behind Mayor Pawlowski’s initiative to “Ban the Box!”

Congratulations to the City of Allentown for getting behind Mayor Pawlowski’s initiative to “Ban the Box!” This is a terrific collaboration demonstrating how local government can work together to promote the best interests of the people living within its boundaries. 
I hope it serves as an example to other employers within the city, especially as the city is working hard to bring new business into the NIZ. Perhaps businesses can sign a pledge to “Ban the Box” when they do business within the city of Allentown? This one act by the Mayor and City Council could have a ripple effect within the city business community…and how about the county? The Lehigh County office building is right down the street from Allentown City Hall…..I’m just saying.
In all seriousness, “Ban the Box” is more than a slogan. It is an approach to hiring and community and economic development that begins to unravel the discriminatory effects that race and social status have imposed on job applicants. It’s not news that racial and ethnic minorities make up the majority of the population in our prisons. In Pennsylvania, about 400 of every 100,000 people are incarcerated. Chances are an employer is going to run into someone who has a criminal record, especially in an entry level position. 
As the good folks at City Hall in Allentown noted last night, this conversation is about fairness. It’s about giving people a chance to prove their worth and value to their community, economy, families and themselves. How often are many of us referred to by what we do for a living? Or, alternatively, do our jobs give our lives the structure that we need to make good decisions? For most of us, I bet the answer to both those questions is “more often than not.” Imagine how demoralizing it is to someone to constantly be refused employment based on a misdemeanor criminal offense that is seven to ten years old and for which you have paid fines, costs, restitution, and been rehabilitated.  In my opinion, denying employment in these circumstances equates to an additional sentence of “life of no value.” That is not in our crimes code, nor in our humanity. 
For businesses, it makes sense to invest in people. Many applicants who are trying to overcome their criminal history have invested in that effort. At North Penn Legal Services, we represent people who have taken classes at the community colleges or local trade schools in order to learn a skill. They get that training and then have trouble finding a job. Staff asks employers: if the candidate can work that hard to try and build a career, shouldn’t you take a chance and invest in them? Does the prior criminal record really have any relevance to the job they are applying for now? 
There is no doubt that some of these applicants may need more support than other employees. Employers may need to adopt policies and procedures to assist with mentoring and training these new employees. There will be bumps in the road, but I believe there will be great successes which will improve the culture of an employer’s work environment.
Staff advocates at North Penn Legal Services are available to discuss ways employers can integrate a “Ban the Box” initiative into their hiring practices, and we are here to work with job applicants who need counseling and assistance with cleaning up prior criminal record histories. We recognize that our communities will be more vibrant when employers are making hiring decisions by first viewing all applicants based on their skills.
At North Penn Legal Services, we are thrilled to know that the City of Allentown is joining our effort.