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.

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