At a Jan. 25 meeting, the Social Services Commission unanimously voted to support the Fair Chance Ordinance, a policy that would prevent employers from asking job applicants about his or her criminal history – or running a background check – until the applicant has been given a conditional offer of employment.
A “ban the box” policy – a term that refers to the section on most job applications that asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” – is currently pending in the City of Los Angeles.
Now there is talk of adopting a similar ordinance in the City of Santa Monica, and on Monday night a few members of the community came to present their support for the policy to the Commission.
Among them was Brianna Shepard, a 20-year resident of Santa Monica and member of IKAR, a Jewish community whose members believe in acting as ethical citizens who care about social justice.
“Currently, we are working with LA Voice and Homeboy Industries to lower barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals in Los Angeles, through the Fair Chance Ordinance,” Shepard said to the Commission.
Shepard emphasized that people of color are disproportionately arrested, convicted and incarcerated and stated that, “formerly incarcerated people, who have served their time, deserve to return to their communities, rejoin their families, earn a living, and regain their dignity.”
Shepard noted that New York, Boston, Seattle and San Francisco have initiated “ban the box” ordinances.
Commissioner Tania Bradkin stated that approximately 70 million Americans have criminal records and that one in 10 of those Americans are veterans.
“And that’s really important I think, to recognize that,” Bradkin said. According to Bradkin, 90 percent of those incarcerated will also come back into our society. “They’re going to be released whether or not it was an incarceration or a conviction, what is of interest to me is what lies ahead for them. And everything points to the fact that incarceration does not work, you know, and a lifetime of unemployment also does not work.”
During discussion, Chair of the Social Services Commission, J. Shawn Landres, said he believed there was value in a degree of consistency in the Southern California region when it came to the ordinance, similar to the issue of consistency with minimum wage.
“The City Council does pay attention to what’s happening and may make some deliberate choices in distinction,” Landres said. “We do have the exemption for labor agreements in Santa Monica minimum wage that are not in the City of L.A. … One way to tweak this recommendation might be to encourage the City of Santa Monica to track what is happening in L.A. City Council and to adopt an ordinance that provides consistency in the region.”
The Commission passed a motion which stated that, “Believing that people who have made mistakes deserve a second chance and the opportunity to live their lives without undue stigma, the Santa Monica Social Services Commission supports the Fair Chance ‘ban the box’ efforts to reduce barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals and encourages Santa Monica City Council to develop an ordinance to prevent discrimination against formerly incarcerated and formerly convicted individuals.”
Landres concluded that the ordinance is a value, as much as it is a piece of legislation.
“It’s about who we are as a city,” Landres said.