Gov. Wolf policy to remove criminal conviction question from state job applications


A “fair-chance” hiring policy will remove the criminal conviction question from specific state job applications.

The policy excludes positions related to the safeguarding of people or property, law enforcement or contact with vulnerable populations. But when it goes into effect on July 1, it may help increase the success of rehabilitation efforts for those with a criminal record, Gov. Tom Wolf said in statement.

Wolf announced the “ban the box” decision on Friday.

“We have a robust system of supervision and rehabilitative services that gives re-entrants to the community all the tools they need to put their lives back on track, get the skills they need to get a job and get moving again,” Wolf said in a statement. “But too often, one small checkmark can jeopardize the future that we all need them to pursue and reach.”

The policy extends only to non-civil service applications for agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction. But the policy encourages other agencies to follow the decision.

“This is an unsustainable model — we cannot continue to incarcerate people at the rate we are incarcerating them,” said Thom Brewster, the executive director of CentrePeace, a nonprofit that provides rehabilitative programs for offenders. “So private employers have to become part and parcel of this effort.”

For some Centre County employers, it’s a move that reflects a trend in recent years.

Wal-Mart, one of the largest employers in the county, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, removed the criminal conviction question from its application in 2010. According to the company, current procedure involves discussing background check results with applicants before a hiring decision is made.

Wegmans, another major employer in the county, eliminated the conviction question in early 2015. Jo Natale, vice president of media relations for the company, said the grocer changed its applications in all jurisdictions where it operates.

“A prior criminal conviction does not automatically disqualify an applicant,” Natale said in an email. “We evaluate each case on an individual basis.”

In 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced a recidivism reduction rate of 11.3 percent. The new policy will help to reinforce those efforts, Sen. Vincent Hughes, of the 7th District, said in a statement.

Steady employment, according to the policy and some academic research, can be one of the strongest predictors of post-conviction success.

“By finding employment, they begin to build a sense of self-worth, and that’s critically important when you’re leaving a system that has defined you in a such a negative way,” Brewster said. “So anything that we can do to increase a person’s dignity will bode well in terms of their chances of staying out of prison.”

They’ve paid their due to society,” he said. “Let’s help them get back on their feet so this doesn’t happen again.”