The State of California: Making Crime Pay?

Angela Preston

Last week California Assemblymember Roger Dickinson introduced AB 1831, a proposal to expand California’s “ban the box” policy for state public employees to city and county workers across the state. If it passes, the criminal background check requirement would be waived in the initial stages of hiring for all public workers at all levels in the state of California.

That’s right—no criminal background checks. I don’t know about you, but I might be reluctant to let the kids participate in the city parks and rec program in a world with no background checks. And what about the city building inspector who wants to come in to take a look at your plumbing? Public building custodians, museum workers, utility workers, workers at public golf courses and swimming pools –all jobs where background checks would potentially be waived.

Proponents claim that the “box” on employment applications asking about criminal history is a barrier to employment for ex-offenders. According to the supporters of the bill, one in four Californians have some level of arrest or conviction record. That’s twenty five percent! That’s a lot of people! With a troubled economy and continued high levels of unemployment, there is no doubt that a criminal history could eliminate you from consideration when there are so few open jobs.

Certainly giving ex-offenders and non-violent felons a better chance at stable employment is a cause that most people can get behind. It might even reduce recidivism. But is foregoing the screening process for hundreds of thousands of public employees the best way to accomplish that result? Especially when so many of those public employees are interacting with children, teens, and the elderly?

Ignoring a criminal past is a dangerous proposition—not to mention that the public is footing the bill. SMH.

Angela Preston
Follow Me

Angela Preston

Vice President of Compliance & General Counsel at EmployeeScreenIQ
Angela Preston has more than 20 years as a licensed attorney and over 10 years in the background screening area. She serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), is a member of the NAPBS Background Screening Credentialing Council (BSCC), and is actively involved in the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and ASIS International. Angela is also a member of the Ohio State and Columbus Bar Associations. Angela has direct oversight and management of compliance programs, and will provide guidance in complex legal matters including state and federal legislation, EEO law, client education, adjudication, pre/adverse action process, NAPBS Accreditation and client and vendor contract management.
Angela Preston
Follow Me
  • Name Steve Gonzalez

    That is different from what my understanding is on “ban the box.” You’re saying it’s not just forbidding the question on the ap. “Have you ever been convicted …” – the bill will actually ban doing a background check on these potential new hires ?

  • Hi Steven,
    The bill goes beyond what we typically think of in a traditional “ban the box” rule–which is just the check box on the application. It prohibits any inquiry into criminal history until all other job qualifications have been met. The one exception is where there is a statutory requirement for a background check. If this bill is enacted, I think it is bound to cause confusion about when and under what circumstances employers can do a criminal background check. We are seeing the same problem right now in Massachusetts. Let me know if you want to discuss further.

  • In this world nothing goes to ensure, except death and taxes.
    The incestuous relationship between government and big business thrives in the dark.

  • Richard Glazer

    The way I took it was that the question of criminal background doesn’t come up until all other job qualification have been met. Once you meet them, then the question of criminal past comes up BEFORE you get the job. This way people can interview, make an impression and show they have the ability to do the job before they’re summarily banned from the position because they said they have felonies.

    Look at it this way, many foreign countries seal criminal histories from the public and don’t have near the crime we do. Their felons can seek employment without a scarlet letter. If they re-offend, those countries come down pretty hard. Why keep barring people from meaningful employment by allowing the public to see non-violent felonies. Its pointless to me. Sex offenders and violent felons shouldn’t be given this protection except in extremely limited circumstances like if two kids are two years apart but one was a minor or a death occurred that more likely than not would be repeated.