City's hiring policy for ex-offenders is right

March 31, 2011

It's hard not to be disappointed by the sensationalist Sun editorial, "Partying on the city's dime" (March 29). We can all agree that no one should be gambling or drinking on the job and that anyone found doing so during work hours should be reprimanded immediately.

The Sun's suggestion that the problem could be avoided by denying employment to applicants with criminal records is not only misguided, it wouldn't even solve the problem it seeks to address. The Sun makes a scapegoat of those who had a criminal background even when about half of those involved had no prior convictions. Screening out those with a criminal background would not have prevented the incident.

The Sun's editorial also misconstrues the city's hiring process. Even for these entry-level jobs, the city retains complete discretion to ask about an individual's background and conduct a record check. They just don't screen people out at the initial application phase. The issue at the Department of Transportation was not the hiring process but the lack of effective supervision.

The incident is unfortunate, but it does not change the fact that thousands of workers in Baltimore, in Maryland, and around the country have a criminal conviction in their past. The overwhelming majority of these workers do a good job and work without incident. Most of us interact with them every day and never know anything about their past. They help us in stores, restaurants, hotels and, yes, in government.

About 13,000 people return to our communities from a Maryland prison each year. We can't afford to keep them locked up, nor can we afford to promote policies that deny them opportunities to work.

The city's hiring process makes sense, and the mayor's continued support of it is commendable.

Jason Perkins-Cohen, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Job Opportunities Task Force.

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