Viewpoint

I made a mistake. So now I’m unemployable for life?

North Carolina General Assembly should pass HB 409 to limit barriers for job applicants with criminal records.
North Carolina General Assembly should pass HB 409 to limit barriers for job applicants with criminal records. AP

“To find a great candidate, give traditional hiring practices the day off.”

I saw this on a billboard here in my adopted hometown of Charlotte the other day while riding the bus. Instantly, my personal situation came to mind. My name is De’Von McRavion and I was born here in North Carolina. I am a lifelong Tar Heels and Panthers fan. I am a brother, a son, and an uncle.

I’m also a convicted felon.

Here in the state of North Carolina, over 1.6 million people have an arrest or conviction history. For those of us with a record, obtaining stable employment is a difficult task. Studies show we are 50 percent less likely to be called for a job interview; my personal experience places that number closer to 75 percent.

Recently the General Assembly introduced legislation to reduce barriers to employment for people with an arrest or conviction history who are applying for positions within the state. House Bill 409 (State Agencies/Adjust Hiring Practices) is not asking for state employers to stop conducting background checks – that would be morally and socially irresponsible. What HB 409 is asking is for state employers to delay questions regarding a person’s criminal history until after the applicant has an opportunity to interview and demonstrate that they possess the skills and qualifications necessary for the job. Private and local public employers would not be affected by this legislation.

Mecklenburg is one of 10 counties and municipalities in North Carolina that already moves inquiries into a person’s criminal background to later in the hiring process for public employers. Records from these places have shown promising results – significant increases in the hiring of people with a prior arrest or conviction with no negative workplace incidents as a result. Additionally, only 3 percent of total applicants with criminal records have been denied employment based on their record. For the remaining 97 percent of applicants with an arrest or conviction history, the information uncovered in the background check was not relevant or concerning enough to warrant denying the applicant an offer. These findings indicate that HB 409 would not likely lead state employers to interview a significant percentage of applicants who are later disqualified.

I know that I would personally benefit from an employer having an open mind; I am currently relegated to jobs within the food, hospitality, or construction industries. This is not a knock on the people who are employed within these industries, but I graduated from Catawba College in Salisbury with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. A former foster child, my hope was to one day advocate for youths in disadvantaged communities. I was in the process of obtaining my Masters in Public Administration at UNC-Wilmington when I made a mistake that earned me a non-violent felony. I recognize that I made an immature decision and I’m willing to accept the consequences. But I would like the opportunity for employers to see me as a whole person, a person who has changed, and not just a check mark on an application.

Without stable employment, a person is apt to go to any means necessary to survive. But we are not asking for a chance to simply survive, but to thrive and become productive members of society once again. There is no question that stable employment is a significant deterrent to crime and recidivism, so this is clearly a public safety issue. The more people who are gainfully, productively employed, the fewer who are committing additional crimes in our communities.

Every person who wants a job should be given the opportunity to present themselves to an employer if they fit the qualifications. HB 409 will put us on par with 24 other states, including our neighbors in Virginia and Georgia, that have already taken steps to reduce barriers to employment for people with records. This act has the potential to set North Carolina on a path of prolonged success by decreasing reliance on public assistance, reducing recidivism, and boosting tax contributions as a result of a larger work force.

Support for HB 409 is critical for me and 1.6 million of my fellow citizens of this great state. We must uphold our founding fathers’ beliefs that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

House Bill 409 would provide our state employers the opportunity to do what our county employers have already done – to consider an applicant’s qualifications, skills, and rehabilitation efforts, as well as information from background checks, to make the best possible hiring decision for the employer, the candidate, and the community.

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