Spearheaded by LaWana Mayfield, job application question regarding prior convictions debated in city committee
by Ana McKenzie
Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield considered banning the box long before she thought about running for office.
Three years ago, Mayfield served as a community organizer for local nonprofit Grassroots Leadership. Most of her work involved immigration reform and researching alternatives to incarceration, of which employment is one. When she became a councilwoman in 2011, Mayfield partnered with the Charlotte School of Law to help ex-offenders find employment with the city by eliminating a “yes” or “no” question on job applications that asks whether an applicant has been convicted of a crime. Evidence shows that simple question often deters ex-offenders from applying — and if checked “yes,” employers from considering them.
“Once you’ve served your time and you’re attempting to get your life on track and be a positive influence on society and change whatever situation that led you to being incarcerated, you can’t do that if you don’t have access to employment. Not just employment, but gainful employment,” said Mayfield, whose district encompasses parts of west Charlotte.
“Banning the box,” a popular name used in cities across the country given to the issue, would not bar an employer from accessing someone’s past. Such records would show up later in the hiring process in a standard background check, giving the applicant an opportunity to explain the charge or conviction and any time served.
Steps have already been made toward eliminating the box. In late February, City Council decided 6-5 to move the proposal to an economic development committee. Upwards of 100 people, including students and faculty from the law school, business owners, city employees and ex-offenders, attended. But the job is hardly finished. Mayfield and students from the law school will work to push the referendum through committee so council can vote on whether to “ban the box” for good.