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Should employers be able to discriminate based on criminal history?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | JUNE 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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Yes

The Waterloo City Council is considering an ordinance that would prohibit employers from refusing to hire any person because of that person's criminal record. If Waterloo does decide to pass this ordinance, it will be among only a very small number of cities in the entire nation, and the first in Iowa, to have such a rule.

Waterloo should not pass it. It is unnecessary, and it is likely to have detrimental results for the workforce in Waterloo.

People with criminal records can still get hired without the regulation, which makes it unnecessary. The only difference between the reality of the current situation and the potential outcomes of such a regulation is a dangerous and unchecked working environment.

Sure, America is a nation of second chances, and if people are worthy of a second chance, they should get one. However, when a government decrees that everyone is deserving of a second chance, and employers no longer get to use reason or discretion, problems become inevitable.

Waterloo has a situation that we don't see everywhere in Iowa, which probably contributed to this proposal. Even though the city's unemployment rate reflects the statewide unemployment rate of 5.1 percent, Waterloo crime rates are outlandish. Waterloo has higher rates of rape, burglary, assault, and theft than the national average and, according to Neighborhood Scout, Waterloo is only safer than 1 percent of all U.S. cities.

In a situation where unemployment rates are relatively low but crime rates are relatively high, we shouldn't eliminate any protections from the workplace.

Everyone can agree that it's the duty of an employer to hire the best candidate for the job. If the best candidate happens to have a criminal history but can still positively contribute, no harm done.

There are plenty of people who have criminal histories who can still perform well, and they do so frequently — even without this extra regulation.

That being said, companies are also obligated to keep the workplace safe and successful so that they can maximize profits and encourage economic growth. If at any time during the hiring process supervisors question whether a candidate will rob the business, misuse the equipment, or create a hostile work environment, they should choose someone else.

While anti-discrimination laws are crucial, they needn't extend to cover crime. Factors that are out of people's control, such as their country of origin, skin color, and sex, ought to be protected, not crimes. We can choose not to steal, rape, or do drugs. If a potential employee chose to commit crimes, let the employer choose someone else.

Some regulations really do hurt business. If the current situation is better than the potential outcomes of change, don't change. Waterloo should focus on lowering crime rates, not giving criminals any more power.

— Katie Kuntz

No

To hold people accountable for their criminal records as a permanent judge of their character is to say that action is no different from behavior. There are three things to consider when evaluating a criminal record: the circumstance of the ex-offender at the time, the distance between the time of the crime and the time of considered employment, and the severity of the crime and its pertinence to the job.

The circumstances of the offender can change the understanding of the crime's intention. The crime can be proven a misfortune or circumstance or even a necessity. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 24.5 percent of federal inmates reported being under the influence of drugs while committing violent crimes, often to support their drug addiction. Homelessness also changes the view of crimes committed when trespassing becomes a way not to freeze on a cold night, when invading someone's trash becomes a way to not starve. On the opposite hand, white-collar crime could be seen as especially greedy and disrespectful of the law but often the highly educated are the easiest to fit back into society, working for personal firms on low wages or for the government to catch criminals like themselves.

The amount of time passing between an illegal act and the time of hiring also comes into play because of statistics that have proved it vital to understanding ex-offender psyche. A study that focused on felons, titled "Barriers to the Employment of People with Criminal Records," found that "after seven years of crime-free behavior, individuals with criminal records have essentially the same risk of committing crimes as those with no records." The study concluded that the state of Michigan, which it was hired to assess, would best be served by specific limitations on the hiring of felons in certain fields after a five-year period.

A problem with this Waterloo ordinance is that it doesn't set out specific disqualifications that would be consistent to ensure public safety. A teacher's gap from committing a felony to becoming re-employed should be assessed differently from a security guard's. Through a system of approved jobs applicable to an ex-offender's skill set, the city could allow certain jobs to be available much earlier.

When considering the economy, this is an opportunity to provide more low-wage workers and taxpayers instead of spending government money to build more prisons. When considering ex-offenders themselves, they have statistically proven they are worth employing. The way one acts at a specific time and under complicated circumstances should never be the dogmatic judge of their life, and these simple human rights should be available to all Americans.

— Jacob Lancaster


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