Nearly 100 people gathered in front of council chambers in the City County Building Sept. 25 to advocate for legislation that would prohibit employers from asking questions about criminal background on initial applications.

“Today we are here to advocate for much needed Ban the Box legislation,” said Dean Williams, founder of the Formerly Convicted Citizens Project who first prompted the call for Ban the Box legislation. “The bill is at the city solicitors office waiting for approval.”

VOICING THEIR SUPPORT—Anna Hollis advocates for Ban the Box legislation with a crowd of supporters at city council chambers. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

The legislation was originally proposed by District 9 Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess in April 2011, but was only aimed at hiring practices for city government and contractors who work with the city. The FCCP has since decided to expand the legislation to include private Pittsburgh vendors and employers.

In an interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier in June, Burgess said he had written several drafts of the legislation and sent them to the city solicitor for legal review. Williams said he had already worked with a private lawyer to determine whether the bill was legal under the city’s charter, but Burgess said the city solicitor’s opinion would be the deciding factor. That was three months ago and the legislation had been sent to the solicitor months prior.

While Williams has been the leading voice in the push for ban the box legislation, he was joined at the press conference by a number of other organizations including Amachi Pittsburgh, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, the National Council for Urban Peace and Justice, and the Black Political Empowerment Project. Williams has also garnered support from several city council representatives, but Burgess, the bill’s original sponsor was not at the press conference.

“I am here because of (Dean Williams) and because of the work he has done to enlighten me on the subject,” said District 3 Councilman Bruce Kraus. “I don’t stand here mistake free. I was given a second chance.”

Krauss said he would vote in support of the bill when it is voted on in council. District 4 Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, who was also at the press conference, and District 8 Councilman Bill Peduto have both expressed support of the legislation.

Speakers at the press conference argued both the economic and social reasons to pass the legislation. They said providing ex-offenders with an opportunity to find employment would reduce the burden on taxpayers while allowing the ex-offenders to provide for their families.

“Children not only suffer while their parents are incarcerated, but after their parents have paid their debt to society,” said Anna Hollis, executive director of Amachi Pittsburgh, a non-profit organization working with children who have incarcerated parents. “Amachi is present today to make sure our decision makers pay attention to the impact their decisions have on the children.”

According to Allegheny County data, 70 percent of incarcerated parents were employed prior to their incarceration. In many cases they were also the primary financial provider.

“My mother never found employment,” said Kayla Bowyer, an Amachi mentee whose mother was incarcerated. “If Pittsburgh joined other cities in passing Ban the Box legislation than stories like mine would be non-existent.”

In a recent survey, 90 percent of the employers who participated said they use criminal background questions on initial applications to immediately weed out candidates.

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