HARRIS COUNTY, TX – For many decades, anyone who is seeking employment for Harris County had to disclose on their application whether they have any type of criminal history.
Now that question will be a thing of the past in Harris County, where officials have decided it is no longer a fair question.
Is this to protect current Harris County officials in future employment pursuits? https://t.co/lTThS1vDzp
— Tilly368 (@Tilly68333) January 15, 2022
The County Commission has decided to remove the criminal history question from their job applications under what they call the Fair Chance Policy.
According to Harris County Attorney, Christian Menefee, the policy will not prevent criminal background checks if an applicant receives a conditional offer, it will just prevent the immediate disqualification of a candidate based on criminal history.
“It will prohibit departments from considering an applicant’s arrest record of arrest if that arrest did not result in a conviction, or if it did and it was expunged or sealed, or it’s a misdemeanor for which no jail time can be sentenced.”
Additionally, the Fair Chance Policy will prohibit immediate disqualification for persons that show a criminal history after a background check is conducted.
“The policy will prohibit blanket disqualification of applicants solely because they have a conviction.
Instead, what it’s going to call for is an individualized assessment of various factors, including what was the nature of the offense. What is the position that the applicant is applying for?”
Harris County TX Adopts “Ban the Box” Policy https://t.co/FULpBa6qka
— Better Credit People (@bettercreditppl) January 10, 2022
Menefee’s hope of having hiring managers take into account what the person was arrested for has upsides, some say, provided they are getting the information from credible sources and not solely depending on the applicant to tell them the truth.
In law enforcement, there is a saying that is very applicable here – there are three sides to every story: her side, his side and the truth. What that simply means is that people will minimize anything they have done so they do not look as bad.
This new policy would remain in effect for all vacant positions in the county, except for those in which state law prohibits those with certain criminal histories from applying, such as law enforcement.
Additionally, the question will remain on the application for those that are attempting to land a job where they will have unsupervised access to the elderly or children.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo also made the point that just because the question is removed from the application it does not mean that a criminal history check will not be conducted if the person receives a conditional offer of employment.
“It’s not that you don’t ask about the background. It’s that when you put the box up front [criminal history question], people just don’t apply.”
Today I’m introducing a policy that will #BanTheBox for jobs in Harris County govt and give a fair chance at employment to folks who have been involved in the justice system. Many folks have served their time and have the skills to do good work. They just need the opportunity. 1/
— Christian D. Menefee (@CDMenefee) January 4, 2022
Menefee and proponents of the policy believe that it will encourage those with criminal histories to apply for a stable job in which they qualify. He believes by getting these people in stable jobs, it will decrease the recidivism rate in the county. He said:
“This policy is also about decreasing recidivism. We know that the number one factor for decreasing recidivism amongst ex-offenders is ensuring that they are able to obtain and maintain stable employment.”
Republican Commissioner Tom Ramsey voiced opposition to the policy, fearing that criminal checks would not be completed before hiring an employee. He said:
“I think of the 15,000 plus Harris County employees that depend on us to provide a safe workplace. To say you can’t know or ask that question before you decide to hire, I think that could have some unintended consequences.”
Daniel Lee, a psychologist, life coach, and self-help author, owns a Pennsylvania-based psychology firm and is the president of the New Jersey Psychological Association’s executive board.
Since July 2020, he has also been serving as a deputy superintendent for the California Department of Education.
As California’s first superintendent of equity, his role was dedicated to the success of children of color.
His role was originally backed by a foundation grant, but has since been funded by state taxpayers. On Wednesday, December 15th, a spokesperson for the California Department of Education confirmed Dr. Lee’s recent resignation.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who was instrumental in the hiring of Dr. Lee’s position, has reportedly known Lee for more than two decades since they were both social workers in Philadelphia.
Lee was even in Thurmond’s wedding party.
The Education Department’s nonprofit affiliate initially hired Dr Lee without publicly posting the job that now pays up to $179,832.
It should be noted that Lee’s resume show zero experience in California or relationships with school districts in the state.
According to local records, Lee, who is 51-years-old, voted in Philadelphia as recently as November and owns a home there. He is shown on video from an October hearing in front of the California Assembly’s Education and Heath Committees discussing improving mental health services in schools.
“We have to change the climate and the space of schools. We’re dealing with grief, we’re dealing with wildfires, and that’s a whole level of environmental trauma that we need to think about as we’re rolling out these projects.”
On Friday, December 17th, Thurmond defended Lee’s hiring, saying he was the best person for the job even describing him as “somebody that I wanted to hire for a long time but he lived out of state. The pandemic opened the door for me to hire someone who is top of his class.”
Mary Nively, chief deputy of the California Department of Education, also defended Lee’s long-distance status.
Even though students, teachers, and administrators have returned to campuses this school year, Nicely suggested that Lee’s location is less relevant because of remote work practices during the pandemic.
She said in a statement:
“I think Dr. Lee has been able to do his job more than adequately out of state. He’s always in scheduled meetings with us, he is always available. All parts of the state and country are working remotely now because they can. It shouldn’t matter where you are headquartered if you are the absolute best person to lead this work.”
“You can only find so many people who live in Sacramento. The ability to work remotely gives us access to really incredible people who are uniquely qualified.”
Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin), is the vice chairman of the Assembly Education Committee and he said in a statement:
“It’s good that he resigned because apparently this was against the law that he was hired in the first place. But, we also need an investigation into exactly how he got on the taxpayer dime in the first place.”
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