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Smith introduces two bills aimed at reducing recidivism

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Rep. Kandie Smith

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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, April 18, 2019

State Rep. Kandie Smith introduced two pieces of legislation on Tuesday aimed at helping former convicts and parents who owe child support become gainfully employed and stay out of jail.

Smith serves the 8th House District, which includes much of Northern Pitt County, including parts of Greenville, Winterville, Farmville, Bethel, Falkland, Fountain and Bell Arthur.

House Bill 834, colloquially known as “Ban the Box,” would prohibit state agencies from inquiring about or considering the criminal record of a job applicant until the applicant has been selected for an interview.

The exception would be the Department of Public Safety where there is a statutory duty to conduct a criminal history record check or otherwise take into consideration a potential employee’s criminal history during the hiring process.  

If passed, “Ban the Box” — which refers to the box some job applicants are required to tick indicating that they have a criminal history — would go into effect on July 1, and would apply only to applications for employment submitted on or after that date.

“Asking for a criminal history on job applications creates an unnecessary barrier for millions of Americans searching for work,” Smith said in a news release. “By narrowing the pool of qualified workers with a question about criminal history, we’re not only hurting peoples chance to provide for themselves and their families but we’re also hurting the economy and society at large.”

The release cited research from the National Employment Law Project that states an estimated 70 million U.S. adults with arrests or convictions could be protected by a “Ban the Box” law.

“Policies like this are all about creating a fair chance for the men and women who have righted their past wrongs and are out looking to become contributing members to society,” Smith said. “Research has shown that once an employer has the time to look at an applicant’s qualifications, they are more willing to hire someone with a criminal record.”

So far, 35 states and more than 150 cities and counties across the country have already enacted some form of “Ban the Box” legislation.

One local group said the bill is a positive step in helping convicted criminals find jobs when they get out of prison. 

Rob Lee, executive director of Life of NC said that people deserve a second chance and that Smith’s bill would help create more equitable opportunities for criminals and reduce recidivism — the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend. 

“We certainly believe everybody deserves a second chance and we believe everybody needs a job,” Lee said.  “Whatever makes it more fair and equitable and fair for people to find the best person for the job, we support that and we encourage employers to give people the chance to apply and not be discriminated against because of something that happened years ago.

“For many people coming out, (checking the box) is a significant barrier because they’re not even able to get their foot in the door to be considered for these positions,” Lee said. “Most of our employers who take a chance are glad they did. And what they’ve done is found ways to handle situations on a case-by-case basis. Jobs are certainly one of the best remedies for recidivism.”

Job training

Smith also introduced legislation requiring those not paying child support to enter job-training programs. 

House Bill 833 is intended to provide the training as an alternative to incarceration for individuals who are delinquent on child support payments.

“We wrote this bill with families in mind,” Smith said. “The entire premise of child support is to protect the vulnerable children in these situations. Imprisoning parents that haven’t been making child-support payments is not always the correct solution.”

Under the proposed legislation, a court may direct  delinquent parents into a job-training programa to help them secure employment as a special condition of a contempt order.

House bill 833 also directs the court to review the person’s progress in 30-day intervals unless the person is enrolled and actively participating in work-specific training.

“By giving the courts the option to direct people to job-training programs, we’re creating an pathway that keeps people out of prison and with their families,” Smith said, “while helping them obtain opportunities that will allow them to contribute not only to their child-support payments, but to society as a whole.”

Jan Elliott, director of the Pitt County Department of Social Services, said she is a strong advocate of parents taking responsibility and supporting their children.

“Many of our absent parents have barriers such as limited job skills, lack of transportation, untreated health conditions due to lack of insurance, some may have criminal convictions that limit employment and so forth,” Elliott said. “So I am excited about the opportunity to take this further than we have been able to do thus far.”

She noted, however, that the legislation would require staff and supportive services in addition to training, which will require additional funding.

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566. 

Job fair

The Pitt County Local Reentry Council will be hosting a Reentry Resource and Job Fair at the LIFE Empowerment Center on Tuesday from 2-4 p.m. at 600 W. Third St., Greenville.

The event is part of the state-wide effort to raise awareness around the numerous challenges that justice involved and formerly incarcerated individuals face that includes finding work, housing, healthcare, and transportation which can lead to recidivism, health, safety, and social concerns.

Governor Roy Cooper also has proclaimed April 22-26 as “Reentry Week” in North Carolina. The goal of Reentry Week is to highlight services that are being provided by local reentry councils, community and faith-based organizations, and others across the state that helps justice involved and formerly incarcerated individuals to become productive citizens.

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