Officials in Richmond, Calif., have approved an ordinance that forbids employers from requiring applicants to reveal their criminal histories at any point during the application or hiring process.

In a 6-1 vote, the City Council approved last Tuesday one of the nation's most comprehensive "ban-the-box" ordinances, a reference to the criminal history box on job applications. The ordinance will take affect in September.

While similar legislation has been passed in dozens of municipalities across the country, the Richmond ordinance takes it a step further by not requiring applicants to disclose criminal histories at any point, including during the final rounds of interviews or after they're hired.

"We've really taken it up a notch," Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, who introduced the ordinance, told The Huffington Post. "By introducing one of the most comprehensive plans in the country, our hope is to reduce unemployment in Richmond, reduce recidivism in Richmond and give these people who want to, a chance to make a change."

Beckles noted that the ordinance is especially timely as California braces for the implementation of AB 109, a bill aimed at reducing prison overcrowding by releasing thousands of low-level inmates by the end of 2013.

"We're going to have a lot of folks coming back from incarceration and looking for work here soon," she said.

Beckles also noted that the ordinance does make exceptions for "sensitive" jobs, including positions working with children and the elderly or positions in law enforcement.

Supporters say ban-the-box ordinances help give people with criminal histories a chance to rejoin society and the workforce in a positive manner.

"Once we pay our debt, I think the playing field should be fair," Andres Abarra, a former inmate, told The Wall Street Journal.

According to the Journal, Abarra served 16 months for selling heroin, but was fired from his first job out of prison after a background check.

They "let me go on the spot," he said.

Linda Evans, an organizer with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, argues that the practice is not uncommon.

"We believe, and we know from speaking with employers, that many times if someone checks the box 'yes, I have a past conviction,' that application is thrown in the garbage," she said in a YouTube video about the ordinance posted last year.

"We try to point out to the employers that there are many highly qualified people who have had some kind of interaction with the law who would be an asset to their employment pool," she continued.

But critics say ban-the-box laws put employers in a potentially dangerous position.

"We have a responsibility to protect our customers, protect other employees and then the company itself," Kelly Knott, senior director for government relations of the National Retail Federation, told The Wall Street Journal.

Richmond's lone dissenter, Councilman Tom Butt, said that he agrees with the sentiment of ban-the-box laws, but that the Richmond ordinance goes too far.

"Most of the (felony conviction box) ordinances across the country are all fairly consistent with each other and fairly consistent with (the guidelines established by) the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission," he told the Richmond Pulse. "This Richmond ordinance pushes it way beyond what was done before."

"There are people who are career criminals and not somebody that you want to put to work in your business," he said, "and employers should have discretions."


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  • Alabama

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/trancemist/5861857356/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr: TranceMist</a> The state passed a bill that will allow the Alabama Sentencing Commission to set guidelines for nonviolent crimes that judges would <a href="http://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/states-take-sizeable-steps-2012-end-overincarceration" target="_hplink">generally have to follow.</a> The Commission can make sentencing changes for nonviolent crimes. The ACLU believes the commission, which will be sheltered from political pressure to be "tough on crime," is likely to impose lesser sentences on convicts.

  • California

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnny4ever5/443015812/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by 4johnny5</a> <a href="http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/realignment/" target="_hplink">California's realignment plan</a> is designed to reduce the number of inmates in the state's 33 prison to 137.5 percent of design capacity by June 27, 2013. It will do this by closing "the revolving door of low-level inmates cycling in and out of state prisons," <a href="http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/realignment/" target="_hplink">according to a site devoted to the act.</a>

  • Colorado

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jennaddenda/2879555288/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo: jennaddenda</a> In addition to an upcoming vote to <a href="http://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/states-take-sizeable-steps-2012-end-overincarceration" target="_hplink">legalize marijuana</a>, and Colorado is about to close a large penitentiary, citing falling crime rates and prison populations as justifications.

  • Florida

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/snakphotography/5021466860/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo: SteveNakatani</a> The <a href="http://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/states-take-sizeable-steps-2012-end-overincarceration" target="_hplink">state's budget</a> requires that eight prisons be closed.

  • Georgia

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/53370644@N06/4976508500/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo: tableatny</a> Georgia lawmakers <a href="http://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/states-take-sizeable-steps-2012-end-overincarceration" target="_hplink">passed a bill</a> that will reduce sentences for low-level drug offenses and theft.

  • Hawaii

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixelpackr/5290944094/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo: liberalmind1012</a> The state passed a bill <a href="http://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/states-take-sizeable-steps-2012-end-overincarceration" target="_hplink">that the ACLU posits</a> will "improve public safety by identifying individuals who pose the most risk to safety, while reducing prison populations by identifying individuals who can be safely supervised outside of prison or jail."

  • Illinois

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/yodudedan/121098748/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo: HAM guy</a> In May, <a href="http://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/states-take-sizeable-steps-2012-end-overincarceration" target="_hplink">the Illinois legislature passed</a> a bill allowing prisoners to reduce their sentences through good behavior and participation in re-entry programs.

  • Louisiana

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_lowry/2700096841/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo: Paul Lowry</a> Some say that Louisiana is <a href="http://www.nola.com/prisons/" target="_hplink">the world's prison capital,</a> but the state is striving to reduce its inmate population. Prisoners serving life sentences for nonviolent crimes can now plead their case to a parole board in hopes of being released. Repeat low-level offenders can also appear before a parole board after serving one-third of their sentences.

  • Kansas

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/akasped/6936879765/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo: akasped</a> The state's House <a href="http://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/states-take-sizeable-steps-2012-end-overincarceration" target="_hplink">passed a bill</a> last month that would give judges more discretion when handing out sentences for low-level drug crimes.

  • Maryland

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamiedfw/2247232509/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo: jimbowen0306</a> The state passed a law that will <a href="http://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/states-take-sizeable-steps-2012-end-overincarceration" target="_hplink">allow ex-offenders on parole</a> to shorten their parole lengths as a reward for good behavior. Another bill increases the number of offenses that can be charged with a ticket, instead of an arrest and detention.

  • Massachusetts

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/wsuph003/4617508512/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo: wsuph003</a> State legislators <a href="http://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/states-take-sizeable-steps-2012-end-overincarceration" target="_hplink">are currently haggling</a> over details of a bill that would reform the state's habitual offender law and reduce sentences for some nonviolent offenders.

  • Missouri

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamiedfw/543377122/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo: jimbowen0306</a> The state <a href="http://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/states-take-sizeable-steps-2012-end-overincarceration" target="_hplink">passed a bill</a> that would send fewer people back to prison for technical reasons like a missed meeting.

  • Rhode Island

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/calistan/6101847680/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo: cometstarmoon</a> Legislators are considering a bill that would <a href="http://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/states-take-sizeable-steps-2012-end-overincarceration" target="_hplink">decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.</a>

  • Washington

    The state's innovative Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion <a href="http://leadkingcounty.org/about/" target="_hplink">(LEAD) program</a> puts people charged with non-violent crimes in community-based services, like drug treatment programs, <a href="http://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/states-take-sizeable-steps-2012-end-overincarceration" target="_hplink">immediately after arrest</a> and before booking. The state will also consider a ballot initiative that, if approved, would legalize marijuana.

  • Glenn Greenwald on Drug Decriminalization in Portugal

    This video from ReasonTV shows you an interview with Glenn Greenwald about drug decriminalization in Portugal.