Advocates for helping people with criminal records get jobs say the issue is connected with Syracuse’s high poverty rate. There’s been recent attention on the Ban-the-Box laws in Syracuse and other cities. The laws make it illegal to have a check-off box for criminal history on employment applications, so people with a criminal record don’t immediately get rejected. Syracuse Common Councilor Jean Kessner is an advocate of removing that potential barrier.
“It just means that you should give qualified candidates a fair hearing. After you get out of jail, let’s say you’re 21-years-old, do you never work again? How does that serve you, how does that serve your family, how does that serve your city? It doesn’t.”
She’s ready to expand Syracuse’s current Ban-the-Box law, which only applies to city departments and city contractors. Kessner makes a connection between the law and the city’s high poverty rate.
“So many people in the city of Syracuse are not employed or they’re underemployed. And there seems to be a new energy on the part of the administration to have community benefit agreements to get jobs for people in the city of Syracuse. This may well be the time to say ‘Let’s take Ban-the-Box and make it city-wide’.”
Others see the issue affecting the community even further. Center for Community Alternatives Justice Director Emily Napier says the potential employment barrier also exposes racism.
“We can’t disentangle the people who are impacted by the criminal justice system from systemic racism. And so we know that it’s people of color who are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system, and there are already a lot of negative stereotypes and attitudes about people of color.”
The current law was audited this month. Kessner says lawmakers would first review the audit before drafting a broader law.
Recently, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced settlements with two corporations, Big Lot Stores and Marshalls, that ensured Ban-the-Box would be banned on all future applications.