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Affirmative Action for Felons?

By Justin Williams

Time and time again the District of Columbia's council member Marion Berry has tried to pass a bill that is called “Human Rights for Ex-Offenders Amendment Act.” And this year is no different.

This act would prohibit business owners from doing background checks until after they make a job offer to a future employee.

The advocates claim this is to prevent discrimination based upon felony charges. But in reality, all this legislation will do is put more burdensome regulations on small business owners, the same business owners who have shown that they may be willing to hire felons without such a measure, though only after they have made a justifiably well-informed decision.

In fact, a SmartBrief poll recently found that just over 57 percent of employers would be willing to look at mitigating circumstances when deciding on hiring a felon. In other words, the business owners are not as cutthroat or callous as the council of the D.C. seeks to portray them.

Clearly, the business owners whose very survival depends upon hiring decisions should be allowed to make judgment calls on whether they think a felon would fit into their business model. For example, a former bank robber would not be a good fit as a bank teller but that person may be a good fit in a job where they would not handle money. And a child molester would likely not qualify for a candy shop.

If the bill is passed restricting the background check until only after the job has already been offered, the business owners put themselves in the position for a lawsuit. At that point, they must show “just cause” for reneging on a job offer, causing this to become a form of defensive hiring, and costing companies tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Simply put, the new policy will force employers to hire—and retain—ex-felons just to satisfy the council's requirements and to keep themselves out of court.

Reverse discrimination against non-felons is already a huge concern by many. In 2007, D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara stated, "If two equally qualified candidates are vying for one position, will the ex-offender be hired simply to avoid a potential lawsuit? We hope not."

But hope, of course, is not enough.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that over two-thirds of all prisoners released from prison are arrested within three years. That means, if the advocates are wrong and the complete cause of offender reentry isn't the lack of jobs, then business owners will be faced with a very costly and dangerous workforce.

The D.C. Council should leave small business owners to what they do best: running their own businesses.

As most people know, they do this by offering the consumer the best possible product at the lowest possible cost. And the council's policy is one that will bring more cost to businesses. This bill will not only make it much harder for businesses to compete, but it will also encourage reverse discrimination, making it harder for citizens who did not commit crimes to compete for jobs they rightly deserve.

Justin Williams is a Contributing Editor of ALG News Bureau.


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