This year, the bug to watch out for is the spotted lanternfly, a stunning polka-dotted menace that feasts on the interior plant sap of grape vines, fruit trees and more.
Guest Host: Diane Vogel
People seeking jobs and housing after prison face many hurdles, and often can’t get past applications that ask about criminal convictions. The District of Columbia may soon follow several other cities around the country in “banning the box” on employment applications. We explore what it would mean for employers, ex-offenders, and society at large.
- Chester Hart Program Coordinator, Southeast Ministries
- Gail Arnall Executive Director, Offender Aide & Restoration (OAR)
- Harry Thomas, Jr. D.C. Council member (D-Ward 5); Chairman of the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation
- Kristopher Baumann Chairman, Fraternal Order of Police Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee
MS. DIANE VOGELFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Diane Vogel, sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, it's a question that appears on applications for almost everything from employment to housing. Doesn't matter where you go, there's usually a box that you have to check off that asks you a simple question: Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Most ex-offenders will tell you that even after they've paid their debt to society, that box haunts them. You never get pass the application stage sometimes if you're looking for a job, if you're looking for an apartment.
MS. DIANE VOGELIn Washington, D.C., we have about 60,000 former felons in the population. It's about one out of every 10. And in our region, of course, the numbers are dramatically higher. There's a national movement now that started in Hawaii and is coming now to the District that says banning that box, asking people not to ask that question at least at the outset of a job application or at the outset of applying for housing could make all the difference in the world. There are more than 20 cities and counties across the country that have already banned the box and a number of states as well. And very soon, the political class here in Washington will be asking that same question. There's a bill pending that will be saying the same thing.
MS. DIANE VOGELSo what is our policy? What is the public policy? What should it be with regard to helping ex-offenders to get new work? Sitting with me today, joining our conversation, are Gail Arnall. She's the executive director of Offender Aide and Restoration. I think that's a nonprofit based in Virginia, in Arlington.
MS. GAIL ARNALLYes.
VOGELNational nonprofit. Thank you. Also -- welcome to the -- to our show, Gail.
VOGELAlso in studio with me is Chester Hart, program director at the Southeast Ministry and at AMEN. Welcome, Chester. Thank you.
MR. CHESTER HARTThank you.
VOGELWe'll be joined a little bit later by the council member who is proposing the legislation. But I wanted to start the story with the image that we all have, and that is from TV, right? Yeah, I know. I see the grins. TV or "The Shawshank Redemption," right? You get a new suite, you get a bus ticket and you get $20 when you get out of jail. And we say good luck. How realistic is that picture? What do we now get? What do offenders find when they get out of jail?
ARNALLWell, in Virginia, you get the 20 bucks, but you don't get the new suit. (laugh) And so you literally get the bus ticket and 20 bucks. And the reason we know this is that then they come and show up in our office asking for help.
VOGELMm-hmm. And Chester, you also, in your daily job, help offenders coming directly out of prison. What do you find are their major challenges right when they start?
HARTWell, major challenge is employment and housing.
HARTYou often are likely to get people to talk about what does these ex-offenders need? What it is that they need? It's real simple. Housing and employment. Key points there.
VOGELMm-hmm. Well, I've heard that this legislation first came about in Hawaii about 15 -- 13 or 15 years ago. And I understand that when it was introduced, it wasn't even particularly controversial. Do we -- can you give me a little history on the law and whether you expect it to be controversial here?
ARNALLI actually do not know the history of what happened in Hawaii. But I do know that since then we've got 22 additional cities, counties, states who have adopted the position. And it's interesting. I, in my work, have discovered that it's a Title VII of this -- basically, the EEOC regulations, actually prevent discrimination solely on the basis of a criminal record, unless it is -- pertains to the particular job. And certainly, you would expect that to be true of police and maybe some medical institutions in light of drug offenses. But if it's your everyday kind of store, there's some EEOC requirements that have to be maintained. And truth be known, the offender doesn't know that and the employer doesn't know that. So that's a point of education right there.
VOGELThat's interesting. Now, the idea here in the District, I know, has been flouted before. that the former offender should be included or protected as a protected class. And it's managed to not get pass the council here in Washington the last couple of years. That's not what this upcoming legislation is supposed to do. But we'll get to the legislation in a -- specifics about the legislation in a moment. I'm hoping that you can tell me a little bit about what you see as the difference between when somebody is employed and when they are not. How does that make a difference in the work that each one of you does?
ARNALLI'll be glad to start. Chester?
ARNALLLet me just start for a minute. When folks come out -- first of all, they are very fragile. And if you can imagine being locked up even if it's for three months versus 15 years, 20 years, you are pretty stunned at that point. And often, the clients that we see are the ones that do not have family, that don't have a support system. Either because they've just literally burned their bridges and their family doesn't wanna have a thing to do with them, or the family is no longer there. It's just simply not intact. And so the question is, what do they do? It's a public safety issue, interestingly. Because if we are not there to help them find a job and find housing, what are their options? And as you mentioned, there's 600,000 coming out, 95 percent of all the people incarcerated are coming out. Duh? (laugh)
HARTOkay, now, on our side, basically, the same thing happens is -- okay, here's what happens when a guy enters our program that just came from the halfway house or one of the transitions or someone just get the opportunity to come straight out of jail. He doesn't have anything. You are first experiencing not having nothing. I mean, just a mere walking down the street looking at a store, I thought I want a soda, but I don't have any money to get it. It affects his esteem. That's the way he looks at his self. That's the way people looks at him. One of the things that helps us when we bring him into the program is that our job is to build the esteem up, tear away the old layers and build new layers. We have watched the total transformation of guys after they got employment. I'm talking, you know, they're shinning. Their esteem is up. Their vocals are better. A few of them have a different walk now, you know, because I got new clothes and new shoes on. But it just makes the world a difference, and we try to kind of keep that going on, I mean, never to allow some type of out-of-sight element to come take that away from him.
ARNALLAnd could I just say as well that the dress is terribly important, and OAR has been most fortunate in a wonderful relationship we had with Men's Warehouse. They, every fall...
VOGELThey're bringing back the suit idea.
ARNALL...the suits. And they -- we get over a thousand suits. And I personally have had the experience of meeting someone who is in their brown prison garb when -- and they're in our waiting room, and I've introduced myself. And then, an hour later, a case manager will bring someone in my office and say, "I'd like you to meet Mr. Jones," and I'll say, "Well, hi, Mr. Jones. Good to meet you." And he says, "I've already met you. I met you an hour ago." I did not recognize Mr. Jones. This is important.
VOGELUh-huh. You're listening to a conversation on the “Kojo Nnamdi Show.” I'm Diane Vogel, sitting in for Kojo. That was Gail Arnall, executive director of Offender Aide & Restoration, and Chester Hart, who's the program coordinator for the AMEN and an ex-offenders program at the Southeast Ministry here in D.C. Do you know somebody who's been affected by this? Do you have a personal story or someone in your family who's had trouble getting or keeping a job because of a past criminal record? Call and share the story with us. Or, do you think that this idea is kind of a bad idea, playing with fire, that public safety has to be maintained above all else, and that it's okay to prescreen felons from the job pool before you've even met them? Give us a call to have the discussion. 1-800-433-8850. 1-800-433-8850 or wamu.org. Now, on our line, we have Harry Thomas, council member -- D.C. council member, representing Ward 5, and he is the person who has just -- is about to introduce the Returning Citizens Employment Inclusion Act of 2010. Good afternoon, Council Member Thomas, are you there?
MR. HARRY THOMAS JR.Yes, thank you very much. And thank you for taking the time to share this with our listeners and your listeners because I think this is one of the most critical issues that we have. I mean, nationally, if you look at the -- in 2008, they said there were between 5.4 million and 6.1 million ex-prisoners and about 2.3 million and 13.9 million ex-felons in the United States. So that tells us with a lot of the laws that we passed when people come home, you know, ban the box. I want to make people very clear. It's just on your initial application that you cannot ask that question. And why is that important? You know, if a person is truly rehabilitated themselves, gone to jail for example, they've gone to college, when they go to jail, shouldn't they be given an opportunity to be viewed for the merits of their accomplishments and who they are on paper prior to that one-box question, as we know, being asked that then puts them in a file of just dissilience. Where it puts them off to the side, you know, because, you know, the truth of the matter is when people served their time, they're supposed to be forgiven their debts to society and come back with opportunities.
MR. HARRY THOMAS JR.But the truth of the matter is people are not given those opportunities because of that critical question that asks on the initial application. I want to be clear. Our law is starting with the District of Columbia's workforce, the District government workforce, because that's where we control as a municipality and we want to be able to run this pilot and make sure that at least and the jobs that we control in the city that we are looking at District government jobs first to say that we've given people ample opportunities. There are job programs like Project Empowerment and other things where we are hiring ex-felons, but we want to get people back in the mainstream and productive citizens. And that's what this bill is about.
VOGELTerrific, Council Member. Let me ask you a couple of questions about it, though, because the public is right to be concerned. I mean, certainly, in the past, even in jobs that require background checks, we've had people slip through, where bad things have happened. How do you prevent that from happening in this case?
JR.Well, let me just say that the initial application you're not asked the question. But then, subsequential background checks in other areas of employment, in sensitive jobs, you know, we still have laws like the Omnibus Child Protection Law that says if people who are working with children can't have any sexual predator or some kinds of felony that are not conducive to working with children and child protection laws. Those laws are still in effect. What we're trying to do is just give them a better level playing field to get into the initial workforce. And so we're not taking away protections. We're just giving opportunities for people to be viewed on the face value of their -- of what they have accomplished in their lives to get themselves back on track.
VOGELTerrific. I understand that some would like to see this bill, as you said it, only the pilot kind of program and applies only to city jobs. But some have wanted to see this applied -- expanded to apply to private sector or, at least, contractors with the city. Might that happen? We know how many contractors do business with the city.
JR.Absolutely. Through the hearing process, we looked at the possibility of all city contractors who do contracts to have the same kind of requirements, because what we're really trying to accomplish here is that the dollar that we spend, are dollars that are reinvested in our citizens. About 2,500 folks come home every year, and that's not counting who's already home. And really what sparked me is, you know, I was in a crime meeting and they showed this thing from CSO who looks over a lot of our attorneys...
VOGELCSO is the court supported organization that oversees kind of reentry, right? Go ahead, sir.
JR.Yeah. And so they showed the dots of returning folks, you know, people and what neighborhoods they're coming back to. And when you look at those dots and you look at the neighborhood, if you go back into the eras of the '80s and '90s, when you had Hanover Street, the drug laws were stricken, where we had sentencing guidelines that put people in jail, sometimes without the judge having the ability to really say this was a first offense because there was sentencing guidelines, we were hit very hard in many of our critical neighborhoods. And so when I looked at that, is we're gonna make our neighborhood safe. We have to provide the number one thing for people to treat them to be, you know? There's an old saying. Give a man a fish, or do you want to teach a man to fish? And I'd rather teach them to fish, give them work and make them lifelong productive citizens again so they don't go back into the spiral of the criminal justice system.
VOGELCouncilmember Thomas, I understand that some in the business community certainly support this, but there also have been a lot of people in the business community who were wary. I understand you've heard some concerns from the Chamber of Commerce and others. Can you give us an idea of what those concerns are?
JR.Well, I guess, as you know, in health care or people who are dealing with pharmaceutical drugs on certain kind of drugs or protected jobs and security, you know, with all the stuff that happened with 9/11, there are some legitimate concerns. But what we wanted to do to show that this can work is start the pilot with the District government workforce and show them how we can monitor and have at least a program in place that requires and have some safeguard that help folks get around those, whatever those obstacles may be, because what you do realize is that there are some very sensitive jobs, security jobs and other things in the private sector, as well as in the District government workforce. For example, parks and recreation, where you're dealing with young people, we have the Omnibus Child Protection Act that prohibits people, who have certain kinds of offenses that deal with children, from working in that workforce.
JR.And so there are protections in place. We just need to make sure of that through this policy of the District government, and that's why I did it this way because I wanted the business community and others in the city to come on this journey with us to make sure the law is strengthened. So if we do go to a broader legislative initiative for the District of Columbia, the next natural step would be what you actually said, contractors that get District government dollars. And then we can look at the other avenues. But I'm gonna work very closely. And let me just say this, Barbara Lang has been an advocate for the ex-offender population and returning citizens. Let's call them what they are, they're returning citizens. Let's take the stigmas away from them. They have been very focused in trying to help us to get folks back into the workforce, and so I think they just want some safeguards and they will continue to work with us. And I know Ms. Lang's heart...
JR....and her dedication to this.
VOGELWell, thank you for mentioning that. And Barbara Lang is the head of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. The returning citizens that you're talking about are all of your constituents, all of our neighbors. We're looking forward to this coming up for a vote. I imagine -- I think you're aiming for sometime in early December. And did I read correctly? Do you have the votes to pass and does the public get to make any comment in this? That's my last question, sir.
JR.Yes. The committee process allows you to make comments, and of course, we always take comments that are unofficial or otherwise. There have been a couple of articles. I know last week, there was an article that talked about it and they kind of put it in the negative light in The Examiner. And I think that we need to really be realistic about it. I tell neighborhoods, if you want your neighborhoods to be safe, then we got to create job opportunities. The number one goal for me as councilmember, I'll be honest with you right now, is workforce development. And understanding the neighborhoods that I serve, with the large populations of ex-offenders that have come back, we're not trying to give and make -- create an unlevel playing field because there are still some folks out here who just need work. But we want everybody to have an opportunity on face value to get a job, and that's where this really comes down to, making our citizens productive and making sure the District of Columbia is a work-friendly place for folks to get jobs.
VOGELThank you very much, Councilmember Thomas for taking time out of your busy schedule today to join us. Harry Thomas, Jr. is the D.C. City Council member representing Ward 5 on the Council. We're gonna take a short break. We'll come back to our conversation with Gail Arnall of the Offender Aide & Restoration and Chester Hart of the Southeast Ministry and AMEN in a moment. And we'll get your comments at 1-800-433-8850, 1-800-433-8850. Or e-mail us at kojoshow.org. I'm Diane Vogel, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi, and you're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
VOGELWelcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Diane Vogel sitting in for Kojo. We're talking about ex-offenders and as Councilmember Harry Thomas said, returning citizens -- citizens returning to the District of Columbia into our neighborhoods after serving prison time. And the question is, what sort of -- whether or not their criminal record should be able to be the initial question that you ask them or whether or not this is -- employer should be able to kind of looked past that not use that to screen to people out immediately, and whether the city should put safeguards in place to encourage hiring of ex-offenders. The new bill that is gonna be passed in the District of Columbia -- we understand the votes are there is called the Returning Citizen Employment Inclusion Act of 2010. With me in the studio is Gail Arnall, executive director of Offender Aide & Restoration. And Chester Hart, the program coordinator for AMEN, an ex-offender program at Southeast Ministry. We're about to go to the phones but before we do, I was hoping, Gail and Chester, that you can each tell us about your organization just a little bit. Give us the history -- a little bit of the history of Offender Aide & Restoration, who you serve, why you do what you do and who funds you? Either one first.
HARTOkay, I'll take the first. Okay, Southeast Ministries/AMEN is a well-known organization in Southeast Washington. We serve a large part of portion of ex-offenders but is not a designed ex-offender program. We take in invited. We've been -- matter of fact, we just celebrated Nov. 7 our 20th anniversary.
HARTRight. We have -- most of our money comes from private donors. We've picked up a couple government contracts here and there.
HARTBut that's pretty -- we serve the underprivileged.
VOGELMm-hmm. And I understand most of your work is in a form of apprenticeships. You link people up with opportunities to learn.
HARTExactly. One of the things that I like about apprenticeship program and -- is that they're not concerned about your criminal background. Long as you don't have none of that Jeffrey Dahmer stuff, (laugh) which jumping out of trees on women coming from Safeway's, they fine. They tell you that in orientation. The good part about it is they start you off anywhere from $12 to $18 per hour which builds the stead really, really fast.
VOGELRight away... (laugh)
HARTAnd you get paid every Friday. So you know that time comes around really, really fast. Everybody – one of the things that we're looking to move into with the employment pieces that not everybody wants the apprenticeship, but, we have a lot of people that absorb it because it helps you grow real fast.
ARNALLOur program, Offender Aide & Restoration, OAR, started in 1974, so we've been around 36 years. It is designed for -- in three general areas. One is to help the individual kind of restore wholeness and we do that in two ways. We teach inside the Arlington Detention Center, and courses in all sorts of courses, all the way from computers to stress management to the financial management. I, myself, am teaching a class on how to start your own business and came from that class this morning. So we have the educational component inside and then when folks come to see us on the outside, in every year, it's about 800, 850 voluntarily come to us. They don't have to -- that's our -- what we call re-entry program. And we work with clients on all the need that they have, the housing, housing, housing, housing, and then to help them secure jobs and, in doing that, help them talk to a potential employer about their offense. We call it the disclosure statement. And taking ownership for what they did. And projecting what kind of person they're gonna be going forward. So that's a critical piece.
VOGELI was interested when I was reading that. How do, you know, if you have something bad in your past, whether it's a criminal conviction or just maybe it's a personal bankruptcy. And, you know, you go into a job. People do credit checks on you now. And now you have to explain that bankruptcy. So I'm wondering what kind of advice you give to people when they have to talk about things in their past that maybe a black mark against their job possibilities. What kind of things do you wanna hear from an offender or what kind of things do you want to say to your people? This is what you say and this is what you never say.
ARNALLWell, the never say is when my fault.
ARNALLAnd the thing we stress is you have to tell the potential employer that don't think you’re going to get away with not telling them because first of all, you're not. And secondly, when they find out, they may or may not have cared, but now they do because you didn’t tell him. And so it reflects badly on your character. And so the way to talk about it is simply say I need to let you know that when I was 18 years old, I did something really, really stupid. And I take full responsibility for it. And you explain just a little of it and say I've served three years in prison. I -- in doing that, got my GED. and I am ready to be the most loyal employee you have ever had.
VOGELAnd, Chester, do you have a few recommendations? I want you say before we go to the phones.
HARTOkay, ours is two-part. One, don't open a door you don't want them to come through. (laugh) Secondly, we have what we call doing the mock interview as the flip process. As they're reading off to you about your criminal background or what you've done, not to offend that particular person but says while I was incarcerated, I got my GED. I got anger management. I got drug treatment. I'm not that same person, so the whole market strategy is even though you are reading that past present, I need to project the new person.
VOGELAll right. Gail Arnall, it's interesting to hear you say the marketing strategy. I guess all of us as we look for new jobs at all times have to be thinking of our marketing strategy. And I guess it's just an extra challenge to do it as an ex-offender. We'll go to the telephones. And we'll start with Terri in Northwest D.C. Terri, you're on the line.
TERRIThank you for having me on show and thank you to your guests. Just want to share my story with the Washington, D.C. community. You're talking about employment skills and such. And I taught those courses. In particular, while I was in federal prison. I've been out of prison now for 16 months. I have documented 165 applications for local employees with no success. I am more than adequately skilled as an administrator, an instructor and a writer. Yes, I'm in my mid-40s. And because I haven't found employment, I've had an extreme difficult time getting with supervision. I work 40 hours a week volunteering my labor.
TERRII possess letters from employees including Department of Parks & Recreation, who denied me employment, claiming a safety sensitive position yet the position nor my conviction has anything to do with interacting with children. So I stand in disagreement with Councilman Thomas though I support him. In a city that's unapologetically gentrified with first sources not enforced and if the city is hiring, city sanctions NGOs are hiring small numbers of people at $8 an hour. Nobody can live in this city at $8 an hour. It's an unacceptable. So the hurdles that have to be negotiated are fully unsupportive of ex-offenders attempts to reintegrate into society.
TERRIThe eventuality is a cycle criminal behavior. Now I petition to the councilmen, face to face, for help to no avail, so I had to create my own job and even that has barriers. Attempted to secure contracts and licensing, it won't be included in the Returning Citizen Public Employment Inclusion Act of 2010. So I like to hear from the panelist. How do we voice to those who will make the legislative decisions to correct all of those things because there's so many of us who are ex-offenders -- I'm meeting with them every week. I'm trying to empower and encourage them. How do make it real that what we have in place ain't working?
VOGELI'm guessing that Gail Arnall from Offender Aid Restoration and Chester Hart, the program coordinator at AMEN and Ex-Offender programs at Southeast Ministry, well, if nothing else, have at least some suggestions for additional ways to go. Thanks for sharing your story, Terri. Chester, would you like to start?
HARTMr. Terri? Terri?
VOGELYeah. He's still there.
HARTOh, he's still there. One of the things that I wanna do with you, to start with, Terri I want you to take my number down to my office. Okay. The numbers...
TERRII'm writing it down as we speak.
HARTOkay. The number is 202-562-2636. The reason I want you take...
HART202 -- Four last digits.
VOGELAnd we'll post this number at our website.
HARTRight. 202-562-2636. I am pretty confident that I can get you employed. Okay. One of the things that we need to do, we need to unite. We need to push these people to have them do what it is that we need done. Stop making excuses, stop pushing us inside. I, too, is an ex-offender myself, Terri.
ARNALLTerri, I would give you just encouragement to keep trying -- two or three thoughts, one is I arrived in Washington in 1974 with a Ph.D. and I handed out 150 resumes. I know how hard it is. And it's hard for the newly graduated out of college, and it's hard for you. And there are just enormous barriers, so keep that trying. Secondly, the bill...
TERRIWell, thank you for sharing. Thank you for sharing and you know...
ARNALLYeah. The bill before the council is not the end-all but it's a beginning. And I have -- I believe that once at least to our clients -- many of our clients if they can get an interview, then they can sell themselves. I had a colleague tell our board recently that OAR is in the asset recovery business. (laugh) And he did it in a context...
VOGELHuman resources are your assets.
ARNALLHuman are the assets. And he did it because in 20 years, the United States is going to have a shortage of workers. And so we, as a country, cannot afford to keep throwing away our workers. These are men and women that are ready to work, that has skills to work and -- so from a public policy point of view -- now, there have been lots of studies of different kinds and we can, on a one-on-one, because that's what Chester's gonna do, we can get people jobs but there really does need to be a public policy about it.
VOGELYeah. Thank you for your call, Terri. And I will say I noticed, when I was doing the research for this that, as we mentioned, Hawaii made this law went into place 13 years ago, recidivism rates did drop substantially from, like, 67 percent to about 30 something percent. And yet there has not yet been a national study of what happened in Hawaii. So I guess it seemed to me that a lot of people are sort of caught between the anecdotal that everyone knows is true and the hard research that can convince policy makers across the board to make changes.
ARNALLSenator Webb introduced legislation a year or two ago. And, in fact, they had a vote on it yesterday to create 18 months commission to look at criminal justice policies. And I'm hopeful that it did pass, because they will do exactly that. And there are statistics. We've learned our own small statistic. And right now, this country is spending 40 billion, that's with the b, billion dollars that, in some states, it's more than they're spending for education.
ARNALLWe're spending 38 to $50,000 a year to keep someone in prison. Gosh, let's send them to Harvard. (laugh)
VOGELWell, we'll continue this conversation. That was Gail Arnall, the executive director of Offender Aid and Restoration, and Chester Hart from the -- program coordinator from AMEN and ex-offender program at the Southeast Ministry. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Diane Vogel, sitting in with -- for you with Kojo. When we come back, a few people that are a little bit worried about this move. We'll be talking with the union -- the Fraternal Order of Police is Kris Baumann, momentarily. I'm Diane Vogel, sitting in for Kojo. We'll be right back.
VOGELWelcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Diane Vogel, managing producer of the show, sitting in for Kojo today. We're talking about ex-offenders and the challenges for re-employment. The District is considering new legislation that would prevent you from asking on a job application, whether or not someone has had a past -- criminal past. You would still be able to ask that question during an interview, but only not in the initial application process. Now joining us by telephone is Kristopher Baumann. Kristopher Baumann is the chair of the District's Fraternal Order of Police. Welcome to the show, Kristopher.
MR. KRISTOPHER BAUMANNThanks for having me on, Diane.
VOGELMy pleasure. I understand that you're a bit concerned about this legislation. Can you tell me why?
BAUMANNSure. Well, first of all, we -- and I don't think anybody is opposed to jobs for ex-offenders or the job program, whether through non-profits or government programs. And thank goodness for people like Dr. Arnall and Mr. Hart that you have there today, and I think they demonstrate there is quite a few programs out there, whether they're done through the government or they're done by non-profits. But this legislation is not the answer to that. This legislation is a disaster, and I think what people need to think about is who and what this legislation would hurt. It's going to hurt taxpayers. It's going to impact public safety. It's gonna impact business in D.C., both existing and future business. And it's gonna hurt the people who are unemployed right now. As to taxpayers, if you're a taxpayer in D.C. and you've spent your life working and paying your taxes, you've already paid for and half paid for police to protect you from criminals. You've paid for the court system once, and you may have even been victimized the court system, and you've paid for these individuals to be incarcerated.
BAUMANNNow what this law would do is it says, the 65,000 plus ex-offenders we have in D.C. can apply for D.C. government jobs and they cannot be screened based on the fact that they have a conviction unless they have been expunged. Well, that means the human resources department for every agency in the District government is going to have to triple in size. So, now it's the taxpayer -- you're going to pay for more human resources people to interview applicants that may or may not be able to get the job in the first place. It's just more burden on the taxpayer. The second area is public safety...
VOGELBefore we move on to public safety...
VOGEL...can I ask you, I understand you used to be a tax lawyer and it seems to me -- when I read this -- that certainly there might be a bit of incurred cost at the human resources side. But isn't the long run -- having somebody as a tax-paying citizen more beneficial than having somebody whose unemployed or underemployed? How do you resolve that? Or is it just that this legislation is not the appropriate way to do it?
BAUMANNWell, the legislation is not the appropriate way to do it. The legislation says, you don't have to say that you're a convicted felon until you get to the interview process, which means you’ve got 65,000 people that can apply for jobs with a couple exceptions where they still may not be qualified for those jobs, and that means those applications have to be processed. And also keep in mind, as Councilmember Thomas said, this is a stepping stone. They plan on making and have tried to in the past, they convene a convicted felon a protective class which carries a whole host of new cost to employers, to the government, and to the taxpayers and so -- who I certainly will want people to have jobs and I said that. I mean, it would be great for people to have jobs. This is not the way you go about it. The next thing to think about here is public safety. Our system in place now that Councilmember Thomas talked about where certain individuals are not allowed in certain assignments does not work. We found that out last year when a convicted murderer sexually assaulted a high school student because the background check system doesn't work right now. So now we're taking a step in the opposite direction and we're bringing in people -- dangerous people, in some cases -- closer to getting jobs where they would have access to secure records, financial information, your Social Security number, your tax records, you name it. This is not the way that we need to be going and the way that we need to address these problems.
BAUMANNBut businesses in the District, and those that want to come to the District, understand. And council member Thomas addressed part of this. They understand that this is an effort to create a protected class. And if I am a future business, and I have a choice between the District, Maryland and Virginia, I'm not going to come to the District if I know that I'm going to have additional costs placed on me regarding either new protected classes or additional hiring requirements or what I have to do. And it's that type of legislative mischief that makes D.C. the 51st worst place to do business in the U.S. And now we're gonna make it worse.
VOGELWell, it's interesting because I know that the agent -- the law right now. I don't want to confuse things for our audience. The law about the protected class is not on the table right now. This law right now is simply, as I understand it, it's not a full employment bill for ex-convicts or anything. My understanding is that it's simply to equalize the playing field on paper. So...
BAUMANNYou're absolutely correct. But as Harry Thomas, the individual who introduced the bill, said just 15 minutes ago on your show, this is their first step. They intend to make this -- and they've introduced legislation three times since 2006. They intend to make being an ex-offender a protected class. I think it's important to remember. But the -- if we the society decide that people should be forgiven or not have something held against them if they've committed a crime, then we can do that, and we've done it already. It's called expungement. In D.C., you can have your record expunged for certain crimes. You can have your record expunged as a juvenile. It can't be used against you. We've already decided, as a legislative in a societal matter, that we're going to do that. But we've also decided that for public safety reasons and a lot of other reasons, there are certain individuals that it is important that we keep out of certain jobs and we know about what they've done.
BAUMANNAnd this goes to eviscerate some of those protections.
VOGELWell, thanks very much, Kristopher Baumann. I'd like to give our guests in the studio an opportunity to respond to the public safety concerns or accusation. Gail, do you wanna go first?
ARNALLI do. Let me just read you a handful of cities that have passed this legislation already: Oakland, San Francisco, New Haven, Atlanta, Savannah, Chicago, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Boston, Kalamazoo, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Oklahoma City. I would find it hard to believe that those cities -- the whole State of Massachusetts passed this law in August. So from a public safety point of view, I've got a -- and this goes to the money as well. It does not cost $38,000 a person to -- each year in order to look at multiple resumes. That's number one. Number two, if you are not going to hire felons because once a felon always a felon, I don't think that's in our Judeo-Christian tradition, folks. It just isn't. I mean, there is a reason in our tradition, in that particular tradition, of an eye for an eye. Vengeance is the Lord's. We're not supposed to continue this for the rest of somebody's life.
VOGELNow we are running short on time, so I would ask you all to keep your answers a little bit briefer so we can get to the phones a few more times as well. But I know, Chester, you wanted to respond as well.
HARTOh, yeah. Basically several things. I would just like to ask the gentleman, what do you suggest that we do in terms of the employment aspect? Now, before you answer that, me being an ex-offender myself, let me explain to you about that expungement process.
HARTI have sat with three different summits dealing with that expungement. It doesn't work.
ARNALLNo. No, that's bogus.
HARTNo, no. It doesn't work. It sounds good, but it doesn't work.
VOGELWell, I know that one of the issues, Chris, that you were concerned about, Kristopher as well, was the idea of liability issues for those who do hire ex-offenders. Is that correct?
BAUMANNOh, absolutely. I think that it's a huge issue. But to be clear, again -- first of all, with Dr. Arnall's statement, I don't -- I -- she said this, but maybe to clarify, all those jurisdictions you listed did not pass the exact same law we're talking about here. There -- it's very different laws, in some of those cases very specific to what the jurisdiction is, whether it's a state or municipality. So in some cases, we're comparing apples to oranges.
ARNALLNo, no, no. Let me interrupt to say those are all the exact -- now some of them have gone beyond...
ARNALL...and I didn't read the beyond. Those, the ones I read, have that law.
BAUMANNThe laws can't be the same because each state has a different set of laws and regulations, so each law would have to be tailored to it. I mean, that's just commonsense.
BAUMANNLet me just say this to -- as to the liability concerns. If you are a business or you're the government, and you are not properly screening people and you are putting people in harm's way -- potentially putting them in harm's way -- that is a cost. Whether it's a cost to the taxpayer or cost to the business, that is a cost. And the last group of people -- because I have not heard much of this discussion. But I would like to explain because the fourth group I have mentioned was the currently unemployed.
BAUMANNIf I'm an unemployed citizen, and I have been a good citizen my whole life, I've worked hard and I got laid off and I wanna go apply for a job, why is it that -- I've done everything right, paid my taxes my whole life -- should now, by statute, be forced to compete with a protected class or a future protected class of people? How is that fair to the taxpayer? And I'm not saying that ex-offenders shouldn't have jobs. I think the programs that these folks run are terrific. But you don't change the law to give a group of people a heads-up against other people, particularly other people who have abided by the law their entire life.
ARNALLIt's not a good -- this is Gail again. It's not a good idea to pit people against one another, and that's what you're doing with that line of argument. And from a public service -- a public safety point of view, if you wanna talk about public safety, talk about public safety, but don't talk about the owners of HR and the other issues. The issue is if you've got a qualified person, why should the fact that they made a mistake 15 years ago for which they have paid, why should that interfere with their ability to get a job?
VOGELSo I think this -- we're gonna have to agree to disagree at this point. We're running short on time. Kristopher Baumann, thank you for joining us. Kristopher Baumann is the chairman of the District's Fraternal Order of Police. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on WAMU. I'm Diane Vogel, sitting in for Kojo. With me in the studio are Gail Arnall, the executive director of Offender Aide and Restoration and Chester Hart, the program coordinator for the AMEN and ex-offender programs at Southeast Ministry. We're gonna go directly to the phone. And we're gonna go to Herman in D.C. Herman, you're on the air.
HERMAN AUTUMNGreetings, Chester, and how you're doing, Gail?
HARTWell, thank you.
AUTUMNHerman Autumn, I'm with the Office of External Affairs.
HARTOkay. Okay, longtime friend of mine. Hi.
VOGELI don't know if we're gonna let you speak, Herman. You're an insider. (laugh) You're a setup. Okay, Herman, if you'll do a quick one, I will be able to get you and at least one other call on. Go right ahead and tell us what you wanted to talk about.
AUTUMNOkay. Well, I just wanted to say that, you know, the ban the box piece is just basically leveling the playing field as it comes to individual's going for interviews. Plain and simple. I mean, there's nothing additional that's added to it or making them, quote, unquote, "a protected class." You have to realize that many returning citizens, when they do apply for jobs, they are singled out when you look at this ban the box piece. When you check off that, you know, within a 10-year period of time that they have or have not been charged or convicted, many employers, both government agencies as well as in the private sector, they deep six that application.
AUTUMNYou know, they are just put it on a chest. So this is the extra time to -- so there's no need for us to even -- look into his skill sets, his ability to do the job. Now, of course, there are safety concerns, but that should come at a later segment or as a later portion of the interviewing process. You're looking at individuals, and like you said it, you know, people that have paid the debt to society that are trying to return to society to be taxpayers, to reunite with their families and to provide whatever skills they have to further whatever company or organization or government agency that they're working for.
VOGELTerrific, Herman. Well...
AUTUMNNow, this is basic what is -- what it's all about.
VOGELWell, thank you for calling in, Herman. I know we're running short. So let me get back with Gail and Chester. The comment that we got posted on our website from a woman named Laura asked the question that, I can pretty much guarantee we can't answer in three minutes, but I'm wondering what your thoughts are on it. Laura says, "If people go to prison with no job skills, how can we create a rehabilitation system that will train and educate inmates who will be released into the community one day and be productive?" Where are we on that spectrum? And especially in this time of shrinking government and cutting spending, are we anywhere near that goal or are we going backwards?
ARNALLWe're going backwards.
ARNALLAnd one reason is that in a prison, the warden's responsibility is security. The first thing that gets cut, security and then room and board, so you've got to feed them. And the third is education. And the education gets cut. And so we're just shooting ourselves in the foot.
VOGELAnd Chester. She said it all.
HARTYes, she said it all. I would just like to say one thing.
HARTI'm constantly hearing the issue of public safety, public safety, public safety. Statistics point out that there's two times a year that your institutions overcrowd their self. That's off season, during the summer, and seasonal, what you're getting ready to come up with now, the...
HART...holidays. Now, the public safety issue comes up when you don't have them.
VOGELYeah. In other words, you are saying that being unemployed at the time like this makes ex-offenders more likely to return to criminal patterns than not to return to criminal patterns.
ARNALLYes. Well, survival.
ARNALLGot to eat.
VOGELWell, thank you for raising some stimulating questions during today's conversation. You've been listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Diane Vogel, sitting with Kojo. Our guests today, you heard from Gail Arnall, executive director of Offender Aid and Restoration, Chester Hart, the program coordinator for AMEN and ex-offender programs at Southeast Ministry. Earlier, we heard from Council Member Harry Thomas, who represents Ward 5 on the D.C. City Council. And we heard from Kristopher Baumann, the chair of the District's Fraternal Order of Police. Thank you very much for listening. Kojo will be back tomorrow. I'm Diane Vogel, sitting in for Kojo.
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