ITHACA, NY – On Tuesday, the Tompkins County Legislature voted unanimously in favor of “banning the box.” People applying for most county jobs will no longer be required to disclose criminal convictions.

The County joins a growing list of organizations who have eliminated the conviction question,  except in cases where certain convictions preclude employment in specified job titles. The City of Ithaca banned the box in December, and Cornell University joined the movement just last month.

Banning the box does not mean that criminal convictions are ignored entirely. Instead, inquiries into an applicants criminal history are delayed until later in the application process. The concern is that asking the question at the beginning of the process could deter an individual from applying for jobs for which he or she might be eligible and qualified.

The Legislature started investigating the idea about a year ago. Several legislators referenced former local journalist and criminal justice advocate Keri Blakinger, who brought the “ban the box” issue to the attention of the Legislature in a presentation early last year.

Legislator Jim Dennis, who chairs the Budget, Capital and Personnel Committee, said that the county has checked in with the various entities who get their employees through the county’s civil service program, including school districts, villages and towns. Dennis said that, for the most part, all were on board with the plan.

Dennis noted that certain positions, such as sheriff’s deputies and teachers, have extensive background checks as a matter of course. Dennis said there are about 175 positions under the county’s umbrella that won’t be covered by the ban the box.

Legislator Martha Robertson asked whether or not “ban the box” could be extended to private employers in the county. The consensus from County Attorney Jonathan Wood and others was that if such a measure was passed, it would merely be a “feel good” measure because it would be virtually impossible to enforce.

Personnel Commissioner Amy Guererri estimates the process will be implemented within the next one to two months. The Legislature will ask Personnel to report back in a year on results from the change.

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(Featured photo by Kathryn Decker on Flickr.)

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.