Friday, December 08, 2006

Mayor Chris Coleman Attempting To Ruin Saint Paul

The City of St. Paul is giving a break to ex-cons in hopes that they'll stay ex-cons. Mayor Chris Coleman issued an order this week saying the city will stop requiring job applicants to disclose whether they've ever been convicted of a crime. While the immediate goal is to ensure the city doesn't discriminate against applicants with criminal records, backers say they hope it gives people with minor rap sheets a chance to turn their lives around. ``After 9/11, with the increasing number of background checks employers are doing, this has become a problem for people that have made a mistake in their lives,'' said Guy Gambill, advocacy coordinator for the Minneapolis-based Council on Crime and Justice. Gambill said St. Paul's decision makes it a national leader in the effort. Only Boston has gone as far, he said.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman
In a letter ordering the change, Coleman also said he would work with the private sector to ``encourage adoption of a similar policy.'' But the city's move runs counter to what's happening in the private sector. More employers are looking deeper into whether applicants have criminal histories and increasing the scope and depth of background checks, said Joe Schmitt, a labor and employment attorney. No one keeps full statistics on how many Minnesotans have criminal records, but the number is increasing. More than 130,000 Minnesotans were on probation in 2005, up about 30 percent from a decade earlier. The state's prison population has almost doubled during that time to nearly 9,000 inmates. But those figures don't include people who have served their time and-or completed their probation. The two biggest contributors to rehabilitating convicts are family visits during incarceration and finding a well-paying job after being released, Gambill said. Having a criminal history makes it harder to get a job even if the conviction had nothing to do with the work being sought, Gambill said. Why, he asked, should someone busted for pot at age 18 be prevented from getting a job 15 years later?State law prohibits people from being denied government jobs or state licenses needed to get a job in the private sector because of their criminal histories. There are exceptions for jobs that relate directly to the crime committed, and the law doesn't apply to police officers and firefighters. In the private sector, the trend of more vigilantly ferreting out applicants with criminal histories has been driven by the rise of legal claims against companies for negligent hiring and the desire to distinguish between applicants as soon as possible. The increasing availability of national databases and computerized records have made background checks on applicants easier and more common. ``As the ability of employers to do background checks increases, one measure of a negligent hiring claim is you didn't do as much as you could have,'' Schmitt said. ``As the bar raises in terms of what you can do, then the bar raises in terms of what you should do.'' St. Paul's human resources director, Angie Nalezny, said there's no risk of a sex offender being assigned to work with children. She said the city will continue to do background checks if the applicant would work with children or have access to money or sensitive information, so it will find out if an applicant has a criminal record. ``Anybody that works in a rec center, absolutely we're going to do a background check on them,'' she said.