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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane joining nationwide ‘ban the box’ trend

No criminal history checkbox for applicants

Spokane Mayor David Condon said Monday the city would join a nationwide trend to “ban the box” and no longer ask city job applicants about their criminal background.

At a news conference Monday, Condon said revising the city’s employment application would open “another pathway to access” for people with criminal pasts and give them “more equal footing for meaningful employment.”

With the move, Spokane joins almost 70 other cities and counties in choosing to ignore an applicant’s criminal history if it doesn’t pertain to the job at hand.

In 2013, Seattle barred private employers within city limits from asking if an applicant had a criminal past. Washington bars its state agencies from asking questions about criminal history until a conditional offer of employment is made, with exceptions made for certain types of positions such as law enforcement. Multnomah County, which includes Portland, removed its criminal history question in 2007. Other cities that avoid the question include San Francisco, Minneapolis and Boston, among many others.

The decision, which does not require City Council approval, is headed to the city’s human resources department and independent Civil Service Commission for review.

“We are not alone. This makes sense,” said Rick Eichstaedt, executive director of the Center for Justice, who joined the mayor at the podium. “A quarter of Americans have a criminal record.”

Two years ago, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reaffirmed and updated a 25-year-old ruling that barred employers from automatically denying jobs to people based on criminal convictions. The ruling said that employers have to look at the degree of offense, the time lapsed since the offense, and how relevant the crime is to the job opening. In other words, a simple checkmark on a box doesn’t quite cut it.

“Overall, it’s a positive development,” said Phyllis Gabel, the chief human resources officer at Inland Northwest Health Services who sits on the Civil Service Commission. Gabel said the commission could approve the decision quickly, but she didn’t think it had to for the policy to move forward.

The city’s human resources director, Heather Lowe, said the commission’s input was being sought because employees covered by civil service rules have their own application.

“We’ll probably get their feedback, but the human resources department owns hiring policies for the city of Spokane,” Lowe said. “I assume we’ll have everything up in a couple of weeks.”

She added that the policy covering the new rule would take longer, as the administration seeks union support.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said he was “glad the mayor is recommending we move forward on this,” though he gave council credit for initiating the move to get rid of the box on city applications, citing a letter sent to the city’s civil service examiner in early June asking to “remove ‘the box.’ ”

The letter said the move reduces recidivism, helps the economy by getting more people back to work, and is “the fair thing to do” – everything Condon echoed when he announced the new policy.

James Wilburn, president of the Spokane NAACP, agreed.

“This is a major step,” he said, noting that he hoped local businesses follow suit. “It’s been a hopeless situation for many families.”