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‘Ban the Box’ ordinance set up for one more shot

The “Ban the Box” ordinance will get another shot at approval later this month after the Shelby County Board of Commissioners failed to pass the measure Monday (July 14).

In yet another effort to reform the criminal justice system, something Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris vowed to do during his term, the ordinance would remove the question or “box” on county employment applications asking if the someone has been convicted of a felony.

Questions about an amendment added to the proposed ordinance and other concerns from commissioners, stymied passage.

The “Ban the Box” measure now is set for a vote at the next Commission meeting, July 27.

Harris, who initially presented the ordinance to the commission in April, hopes the initiative gives those with criminal histories a second chance at employment.

After the measure failed to pass, Harris urged residents to reach out to their elected officials to garner support before the next vote.

“This effort would help put an end to the use of criminal histories as a way to weed out applicants for county jobs,” Harris has said about Ban the Box. Too often, African American men have criminal histories that hold them back and keep them from getting jobs.”

Before voting Monday, Commissioner Eddie Jones Jr. presented an amendment to the original ordinance that will give businesses incentives to remove the box.

“It opens another door for those coming out of the system,” Jones said. “We were their incarcerators, now we can be their liberators.”

Jones is one of the original ordinance’s sponsors along with commissioners Tami Sawyer, Mick Wright, Willie F. Brooks Jr., Reginald Milton, Mickell Lowery, Michael Whaley, Van D. Turner Jr., and Chairman Mark Billingsley.

While some commissioners were poised to vote on the original ordinance, there were concerns about the amended version.

Commissioner Brandon Morrison said she was concerned of the economic impact, making it “complicated for vendors to get through the process.”

Although the amended motion failed, based on commission rules, it can still advance to a final vote at the next commission meeting. Harris is hoping for a better outcome.

“Under the Commission rules, we still have one more opportunity to find the votes. The meeting on July 27 will be the last chance to find a path forward. Please contact your Commissioners,” he tweeted after the meeting.

Harris said Shelby County could join 150 other cities and counties, including the City of Memphis, with similar legislation.

Still, some critics of “Ban the Box” have noted that employers can find information about applicants online and choose not to hire the employee based on their findings.

“We’re working on that part of the puzzle too, those digital footprints,” Harris said about further reform.

Additionally, there are stipulations to the rule. The ordinance would provide an exception to “banning the box” for convictions that are directly related to certain jobs, such as those dealing with children or sex-offender convictions.

Still, proponents of the ordinance said the good will outweigh the negative by providing those with a criminal history a second chance and reducing recidivism.

“Our data shows what sustainable employment can do for ex-offenders and his or her family,” said Harold Collins, the executive director of the County’s Office of Re-Entry.

Collins pointed out that in 2018 the office served nearly 400 clients and approximately 16 percent were re-arrested.

“We know that these numbers can be reduced significantly with Ban the Box,” he said.

While getting the commission’s approval is the first step, Harris said he’ll also be working with private companies to also adopt “ban the box.”

“But Shelby County plans to lead by example,” he said. “We’ve got to get our house in order first and then we’re going to go out and talk about this issue i

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