Friday, July 25, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

A conviction that a conviction shouldn't mean joblessness

Next week, Capreece Lackey, 43, goes up before Pennsylvania's Board of Pardons, seeking a pardon for her crime, prostitution, and a lesser, related charge of obstructing traffic. It happened 15 years ago, when she was addicted to drugs. "I had no soul," she said, when I interviewed her last year about this time. "I didn't care what I did." All Lackey wanted, but couldn't get because of her criminal conviction, was a job cleaning offices.

A conviction that a conviction shouldn't mean joblessness

Capreece Lackey
Capreece Lackey

Next week, Capreece Lackey, 43, goes up before Pennsylvania's Board of Pardons, seeking a pardon for her crime, prostitution, and a lesser, related charge of obstructing traffic. It happened 15 years ago, when she was addicted to drugs. "I had no soul," she said, when I interviewed her last year. "I didn't care what I did."

All Lackey wanted, but couldn't get because of her criminal conviction, was a job cleaning offices.

She should have been a shoo-in, based on her home, which I visited in Northeast Philadelphia when I interviewed her last year. She was raising her deceased sister's two daughters, both teenagers, and the place was immaculate. Rare is the occasion in which "teenagers" and "immaculate" occupy the same sentence.

The reason I'm writing about this now is that an anniversary of sorts has passed.

Just over a year ago, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission issued guidelines explaining how employers should think about their hiring practices when it comes to potential employees with criminal  records.

Essentially, the guidelines asked employers to look at their human resource policies and to make sure they are consistent with "business necessity." Three factors matter. Employers must evaluate the nature of the crime, the amount of time that has passed since the crime and the nature of the job.  

"A policy or practice requiring an automatic, across-the-board exclusion from all employment opportunities because of any criminal conduct" would be inconsistent with that evaluation, the commission wrote.

Lackey, who said she has been sober, since 1999, lands jobs, but then loses them when employers discover her record. "They look at you like you committed the crime then and there," she said. She still doesn't have a job, but she hopes that will change if she gets a pardon and when her record is expunged.  

Lackey was introduced to me by her lawyer, Sharon Dietrich, who manages employment law issues for Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. Dietrich said that Lackey is committed to talking about this issue, because she feels so strongly about the injustice of employment practices that deny jobs to people over problems that happened long in the past, and are irrelevant to the jobs they seek.

On April 25, Dietrich sent out an email -- she called it a birthday card, in light of the EEOC anniversary. In it, she quotes a report from EmployeeScreenIQ, a Cleveland company that conducts background checks. The company surveyed employers in December and January. Of the 992 that responded, 68 percent had reviewed their employment practices as a result of the EEOC guidelines. Of them, about half made changes to their policies.

"This news is both heartening and challenging," Dietrich wrote. "As a result of the guidance, large segments of the nation's employers have confronted their criminal background screening practices and made changes (which almost certainly are positive ones for people with criminal records). But a significant number of employers remain in the dark."

"The survey's findings are supported by ... experiences in our legal practice, in which we have seen both astonishing positive results (such as the national employer which testified in a deposition about the operational changes to background checking that it made as a result of the guidance) and stubbornly resistant employers (like those who still feel free to write in letters that they will not hire anyone with a criminal record). We will persevere, bolstered by the promising signs that we are making progress."

Community Legal Services' web site includes a section with information on employment with a criminal record.

In related news, National H.I.R.E. Network, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the National Workrights Institute released a guide Tuesday advising employers on how to handle these issues. These groups are advocates for people, like Lackey, who would like to be employed, but are held back by criminal records.

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog

Jobbing covers the workplace – employment, unemployment, management, unions, legal issues, labor economics, benefits, work-life balance, workforce development, trends and profiles.

Jane M. Von Bergen writes about workplace issues for the Inquirer.

Married to a photographer she met at her college newspaper, Von Bergen has been a reporter since fourth grade, covering education, government, retailing, courts, marketing and business. “I love the specific detail that tells the story,” she says.

Reach Jane M. at jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer