On most employment applications and forms for housing, there is a question that asks if the applicant has ever been arrested or convicted of a felony. Unfortunately, an affirmative answer on that simple question may unduly shut out people who are otherwise perfectly qualified. It is especially troubling that this could bar people who want to put their lives back together from gaining meaningful employment or a place to live.
Cities across the nation — including Philadelphia; Newark, N.J.; Seattle; and Buffalo, N.Y. — have already passed such legislation.
Under the local legislation that is moving through the Board of Supervisors’ approval process, housing providers and private companies with 20 or more workers would be banned from asking the question about previous felonies until there is at least one interview. This practice, which is already in place for public workers in San Francisco, should give candidates a chance to explain why they are qualified for the job instead of being judged due to a check mark in a box.
The legislation also would call for some criminal history to be off-limits. Under the legislation, which has been in the works for more than a year, arrests that did not lead to a conviction, convictions that were expunged and convictions that are more than seven years old would not be able to be used in considering applicants.
The legislation, introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim, has the backing of District Attorney George Gascón, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Mayor Ed Lee and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.
The criminal justice system that exists was not meant to penalize people who have not been convicted of a crime or drag a conviction on into perpetuity after time served.
San Francisco has in many ways been at the forefront of programs for alternative sentencing and diversion programs to help people who want to set their lives on a better path and avoid recidivism. Now, by passing this legislation, The City has another chance to make a clear statement in how it supports helping to build better futures for everyone.