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New Castle seal

To lower prison recidivism rates and help ensure everyone gets a second chance, cities and states nationwide have enacted so-called Ban the Box laws.

The laws aim to reduce chances that job applicants aren’t eliminated solely because of a criminal record, or crimes that may have occurred decades ago. An estimated one in six U.S. adults has a felony on his or her record.

New Castle, however, appears headed in the opposite direction. It could become one of the relatively small number of municipalities that specifically bans anyone with a felony from city employment.

On Thursday, Councilwoman MaryAnne Gavrile said she wants council to amend city ordinance to keep people with felonies from obtaining jobs with the city. “We owe residents city (employees) they can trust,” she said. “They are paid by tax dollars.” She instructed city staff to draw up an ordinance amending New Castle’s employment code. Members of city council would then vote on the amended ordinance, which would cover city employment only.

Currently, New Castle has no ordinance or personnel policy that restricts employment due to a criminal record.

Gavrile’s action came after council members recently learned a city employee had a felony on his record.

Council president Tom Smith agreed with Gavrile’s plan. “I believe in giving people second chances — sometimes even third chances,” he said. “We’ve all made mistakes. But because of the nature of (city) work, employees have to be beyond reproach.”

Other cities and states started loosening restrictions on hiring people with criminal records, after President George W. Bush signed the Second Chance Act of 2007. Supporters of the legislation argued that the inability to find employment pushed many ex-offenders back to crime and prison, where they cost taxpayers an average of $30,000 a year.

In May 2017, Gov. Tom Wolf announced a “ban-the-box” hiring policy for non-civil service employees under his direction. The policy removed a question about criminal convictions from job applications. Security and certain other jobs are exempt from the policy. Nationwide, 35 states and more than 150 cities, have taken steps to ease restrictions on hiring people with criminal records. Most people who have committed felonies have not gone to prison but, instead, served short sentence in county jails or on probation.

On Friday, Mayor Chris Frye was unavailable for comment.

Gavrile said the amendment ought to require all applicants to fill out physical applications and list any convictions. Under the proposed amendment, city employees would be fired after hire, if city officials learned they had lied on the application, or had a felony on their record that wasn’t initially discovered.

Smith said he wasn’t sure whether the employee with the alleged felony had completed an application — but said if he hadn’t, the city was at fault.

“New Castle is never going to move forward until we stop these bone-head mistakes,” he said.


Maria Basileo is a news reporter. She covers Laurel and Shenango school boards and municipal government.

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