Yvonne McBride

Richland County Councilwoman Yvonne McBride.

Richland County Council has approved a measure that will remove from county job applications the question of whether someone has a criminal record.

Council approved the initiative at a June 4 meeting.

Commonly referred to as "banning the box," numerous counties and municipalities across the country have been choosing to eliminate the question of a person's criminal history from initial job applications. The theory is that, if an employer sees on an application that a person has a criminal background, they could develop an opinion about that person before ever taking a closer look into their qualifications and abilities. Banning the box could help in eliminating that initial barrier.

Democratic District 3 Councilwoman Yvonne McBride spearheaded the county's recent ban the box movement.

“Richland County is known for being a county that supports rehabilitation. This is in conjunction with our philosophy to give people a second chance after they have gone and paid their [dues] to society," McBride said on June 4. "This is a national movement. It’s done extremely well. Research is supporting it. … I think this is something we really need to push, and work directly with [county human resources] to have policies and procedures in place."

Council Vice Chairwoman Dalhi Myers spoke in favor of the county banning the box. She said a person's past shouldn't necessarily hamper them forever. 

“What we are doing is we are saying, 'In Richland County, we believe in fairness, and our policies reflect that,'" Myers said. "We’re going to evaluate you based on your character today, not what you have done or what you did 50 years ago, or even 10 or five or two. What we are saying is, ‘Do you qualify for this position? Do you interview well? Does your background and experience lead us to believe you can be successful?’”

Councilman Bill Malinowski wondered aloud why the policy was necessary, saying the county already participates in fair hiring practices. He also quizzed county human resources director Dwight Hanna and acting County Administrator John Thompson about the typical hiring process for county employees.

Hanna stressed that the county would still run a criminal background check before finalizing the hire of an employee, but the fact of whether or not they have a criminal record would simply not appear on the initial application.

"You're considering them, objectively, based on their qualifications, and then, if you decide you want to consider hiring them, you look at their [criminal] record and make an assessment of their record," Hanna said. "Their record as to whether it is relevant to the job, how long it has been. We have people, for example, when they were a teenager, may have gone to Myrtle Beach, had a little too much fun, did something, and it’s on their record. But it may be 20 years ago. Do we want to hold that against them forever? Not to say what they did in Myrtle Beach was correct, but it may not be relevant 20 years later.”

Myers says banning the box will give applicants who may have had an incident in the past a chance to fairly show their current qualifications and abilities.

“It gives people the opportunity to get their foot in the door and not be eliminated on the front end," Myers said.

The concept of banning the box is not unfamiliar in Columbia. The City of Columbia already observes the practice and, in his February State of the City address, Mayor Steve Benjamin said he planned to encourage private companies that do business with the city to remove boxes from employment applications that ask applicants if they have a criminal history.

“The City of Columbia already implements ban the box tactics in its hiring, but we also want people who work for small businesses, for large corporations, for nonprofit organizations and everything in between to have those same opportunities," the mayor said in his address.

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