Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Another FL Community Looks to "Ban The Box" on Job Applications

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – The difficult task of finding a job is all the more challenging for those who have interacted with the criminal-justice system, which is why people in one Florida community hope to "Ban the Box" on job applications.

Columbia County, FL, also wants to know if one has been a defendant in a civil action.

"The box" is what applicants check if they've been arrested or convicted of a crime, and tonight at a forum in Broward County, community members will urge the county to eliminate the box from its job applications.

Marcus Dixon, political director for the Florida state council of the Service Employees International Union, said that box prevents many people from even considering applying for jobs, and affects the way employers view applicants as well.

"No matter how objective we are trying to be," he said, "what we know and what we see is that that information presents some kind of bias, and kind of stains that person moving forward."

While those in favor of keeping the box believe it's important for employers to know a person's criminal history up front, Dixon said the move doesn't eliminate criminal background checks but allows applicants to first be judged on their qualifications. Because the criminal-justice system is so complex, he said, there are many cases where people plead guilty in court without fully comprehending the consequences.

"All they know is that they want to go home, so -- 'Whatever gets me out of here, I'll plead whatever I need to do if I get to walk out and go be with my family.' What they're not understanding," Dixon said, "is how that decision is going to affect them for the rest of their lives."

Research shows that questions about criminal history on job applications disproportionately affect people of color, as nearly half of black men in the United States have been arrested by age 23. To date, dozens of cities and counties, including Miami-Dade County, and 23 states have passed similar ban-the-box laws.

The forum will begin at 7 p.m. at Lauderhill Mall in Lauderhill. The Broward County Commission is expected to vote on the issue next week.

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