Given the ongoing beef and bickering between Mayor Chris Frye and the New Castle City Council, it’s a minor miracle the city has taken any steps forward.
In the latest step-back, New Castle faces state sanctions for violating its own financial recovery plan.
Even by New Castle’s sub-standards, however, Councilwoman MaryAnne Gavrile’s plan to ban anyone with a felony from city employment is a real doozie. To make that happen, she asked the city’s legal staff on Thursday to draw up an amendment to city code. Council President Tom Smith supported this shortsighted proposal, which council members will act on later.
Two weeks ago, council members learned that (brace yourself) a city worker had a felony on his record. In truth, the city probably has more than one such employee.
Based on federal statistics, an estimated one in six U.S. adults has committed a felony. Most of these 25 million to 30 million people have not gone to prison; instead, they served probationary sentences, received other community sanctions, or did stints in county jails.
The New Castle employee who triggered this frivolous debate was convicted of criminal trespass 15 years ago. He served 24 months on house arrest, court records show.
We don’t know whether this employee is average, exemplary, or dead wood. The decision to hire or retain him, however, ought to depend on his job performance, not a mistake he made 15 years ago.
Criminal records can erect unjust lifetime barriers to jobs, housing, and education that push people back into crime. Blanket bans, such as the one proposed by New Castle, disregard the age or relevance of the offense. Nor do they consider what ex-offenders have done with their lives since their convictions. Unyielding and unforgiving, New Castle’s proposed code amendment would, in effect, outlaw second chances. It also would have a disproportionate impact on Black applicants.
Many ex-offenders are productive, pay taxes, support their families, and contribute to their communities. New Castle can’t afford to eliminate talented, hardworking people from its applicant pool. Nor can society afford to pay unnecessary incarcerations costs that average, per person, $30,000 a year.
To lower crime and recidivism rates, hundreds of cities and states nationwide have enacted so-called Ban-the-Box laws and other re-entry measures to remove employment barriers for ex-offenders and ease their transition back into their communities.
Bi-partisan re-entry initiatives have received federal support since President George W. Bush signed the Second Chance Act of 2007. Allowing ex-offenders to move on and become productive is the right, and smart, thing to do. New Castle appears headed in the opposite direction.
Rejecting Councilwoman Gavrile’s counterproductive and mean-spirited plan would mark a step forward for New Castle — or at least prevent it from taking another step back.