This week I had the pleasure of going to New York City for the Richard Netter Conference on Criminal Records and Employment at the Cornell University ILR School. I had heard about the conference a few months back and was happy to join other representatives from the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). In what I anticipated being a complete hatchet job on the screening industry, it turned out that we agree on many more points than we disagree; and that’s a great start! The focus of the conference was a to have a better understanding of and a meeting of the minds on issues such as civil rights of former offenders, right to work, and other societal issues of the day related to criminal activity in the U.S.. The good news is there was a lot of broad range of topics discussed in this nine hour conference. The bad news is it has given me a lot to write about and Nick, even more to edit!
I anticipate that several posts will come out of this experience. The first will be a general recap of the sessions and the questions raised. I intend to drill down further on each of these issues and panels in future posts.
The keynote speaker was Cornell William Brooks, Esq. Cornell is the President and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. Mr. Brooks is a civil rights advocate and frequent speaker on criminal reentry into the workplace. Brooks gave an excellent speech, set the stage for the issues that would be discussed and touched on many of the topics that face minorities today when trying to re-enter society.
The first panel was, “What are the issues of uniformity/inaccuracy in the reporting of criminal records? How do Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRA’s) operate?” In addition to Montserrat Miller, the lobbyist for NAPBS, the panel also included scholars and a non NAPBS member screening company. In my opinion this panel proved the importance of NAPBS membership, specifically because of the standards our members strive to achieve. Professor Shawn Bushway, a frequent speaker and author of studies on criminal recidivism gave an overview of his research and, what I believe to be, some conclusions based on very old data. For instance, in his research he shows criminal repositories to have more accurate dispositions than actual county court records. Those of us in the screening industry and many HR professionals know this couldn’t be further from the truth. Admittedly he says the data is older and needs updating.
The second panel, “Title VII, Adverse impact and criminal records as a selection device matrix approaches, and the uniform selection guidelines” was well received. The panelists were mostly attorneys on both sides of the issues. I felt the most impactful was P. David Lopez, General Counsel of the EEOC. He raised many controversial issues, such as the EEOC not being convinced that negligent hiring suits are not as important as perceived discrimination of ex-offenders in the workplace. Mr. Lopez made an assumption that negligent hiring lawsuits have been on the decline. Personally I believe that begs the question; are they on the decline because more companies are doing background checks?
After our lunch address we had our third panel, “What do employers need to know when using criminal records? What is relevant to hiring? Employer’s fear of negligent hiring suits.” I was really interested in this panel mainly because a true industry perspective would be on the panel, a member of the NAPBS Board of Directors., he was also joined by Alfred Blumstein and Kiminoi Nakamura, authors of a oft-cited controversial study focusing on criminal recidivism. This study followed 88,000 first time offenders from 1980 in the state of New York. The study showed a very low rate of recidivism for these “first time offenders”, however the conclusion derived from the research is full of holes due to a number of scenarios that we not considered. The study only covered first time offenders, it does not track crimes outside of New York, and recidivism assumes that the person has actually been caught. We have covered this study a few times in the past.
Our fourth and final panel had the most impact on the audience. “Restoration Issues: What employment models work? Is ban the box an answer to refusal to hire?” The final speaker on this panel was an ex-convict who spent 19 years in prison for a 1992 manslaughter conviction. Still out on parole, Anthony Cardenales is now a supply chain manager at a well known recycling company. Mr. Cardenales is a poster child for giving someone a second chance and he gave an excellent speech to support it. The owner of his company, WeRecycle, was also in attendance and gave a glowing recommendation for other employers to follow suit and give a chance to ex-offenders. The tone was that background checks weed out possible good employees and employers should look beyond what is on a rap sheet. I posed the question to him, “do you still conduct background checks?” His indicated that he does. He said that they are worried about theft and do their best to identify those with significant theft records. I still struggle with giving a chance to someone who clearly killed another human being over someone who took property from another, but everyone is entitled to take their own risks in business. The most troubling speaker was an attorney that made the claim that our industry uses extreme examples of sex offenders trying to work with children. She made it look like folklore, like a boogey man that doesn’t exist. Perhaps she has not been following the recent events at Penn State and Syracuse. With over 700,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, all looking for work at some point, I hardly identify this as extreme. Putting these types of offenders aside, she must have no understanding for the other violent, dishonest and non qualified people that might be trying to work for someone’s company. We have always stated that there is a job for everyone, however, there is sometimes just too much risk when there is no protection to an employer, their employees or their customers .
There will be more to come on this conference in the coming weeks!