Baton Rouge has “banned the box,” and those seeking jobs with the city-parish will not have to disclose on their applications whether they were convicted of a felony, though they will still go through background checks.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council voted 10-2 Tuesday to adopt the “ban the box” initiative. Metro Councilwoman Denise Marcelle sponsored the initiative, which was met with little resistance from the public.
Many cities across the nation have already removed questions about applicants’ criminal histories from their job applications. New Orleans banned the box in 2013 and has also debated taking similar measures for those who apply for public housing.
Ban the box in Baton Rouge will not apply to people applying for jobs with government agencies where employees are held to a higher standard of security, like the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport and the Baton Rouge Police Department.
Brian Bernard, the city’s interim human resources director, said the city-parish runs background checks on every classified employee and will continue to do so.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said the government spends millions of dollars training prisoners to develop job skills during their incarcerations. She said it’s disappointing, then, that many trained prospective workers are turned away from jobs at the first step of the application process.
“What this does is give them a first step, simply an interview,” Smith said.
James Windom, executive director of the Capital Area ReEntry Coalition, said the state releases about 15,000 prisoners a year. Helping former prisoners get jobs is a key step to ensuring they becoming taxpaying citizens rather than ex-cons who fall back into crime, Windom said.
“They are motivated; they are highly skilled with various skill sets,” Windom said.
Councilmen Scott Wilson and Joel Boé voted against the initiative. The rest of the council voted for it.
Wilson and Boé said after the meeting the initiative does not make much of a difference because potential employees will still go through eventual background checks. Boé said he would not want hiring managers to spend a month doing interviews and narrowing the list of applicants only to learn at the end of the process that the person they want to hire has a problematic background.
“It saves you time, it’s efficiency,” Wilson said about keeping questions about criminal histories on job applications. He also pointed out how the policy will differ for the airport and police, and said, “the box needs to be consistent and uniform across all applications.”
Later in the meeting, the Metro Council allowed the Capital Area Transit System to eliminate two of its routes. CATS will do away with the O’Neal Park and Ride service, along with the Mall of Louisiana-to-downtown route.
CATS CEO Bob Mirabito told the Metro Council that low ridership on both routes did not warrant keeping the service. He said CATS held two public hearings about eliminating the routes and received no negative feedback.
Mirabito said the money CATS spent on those routes will be reallocated to improve others.
The 2012 CATS tax campaign used the O’Neal Park and Ride route as an example of new, expanded services intended to attract “riders of choice.” CATS has suffered from having a reputation of being a last-resort mode of transportation for Baton Rouge residents who can afford their own vehicles.
Editor's note: This story was changed at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11, to correct that the vote occurred on Tuesday.