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St. Louis City Hall Lets Job Seekers Skip Criminal Past On Applications

Joseph Leahy / St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis will no longer require job candidates to disclose previous felony convictions on their applications.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay announced the shift in hiring policy during a press conference at City Hall Tuesday.

“We’re really not changing our approach to who we hire. It’s just how we do it,” he said.

The change means potential employees will not have to check a box on their applications if they have a felony conviction.

Slay said the new policy is intended to give felons a fair chance to re-enter the workforce, but the city will continue to screen candidates on a case-by-case basis and require necessary screenings and drug tests.

“We would not hire, for example, a child molester for recreation programs and we would not hire an embezzler to handle money,” he said, “but many people who did wrong in the past could become very good employees today. We will make individual assessments instead of blanket exclusions.”

In March 2013, the city ended its policy of automatically disqualifying applicants convicted of felonies. According to Director of Personnel Rick Frank, when hiring, the city considers the circumstances surrounding past felonies, including the nature of the crime, how long ago the crime occurred, and how it might reflect on the candidate’s qualifications for the specific job.

The digital application on the city’s website and all paper applications have been revised to omit the question, said Frank.

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed lobbied the mayor for several years to remove the felony check box from applications.

“We have massive, massive unemployment among young African American males who have been convicted with felony charges,” she said.

The policy aims to give people a second chance, especially young black men, she said.

“They come out of prison each and every day and they knock on the doors of opportunity. Those doors are slammed in their faces because they carry the stigma of being an ex-felon.”

Nasheed said she will introduce a bill in the state legislature next session to ban the box on applications statewide.

The effort is one of many nationwide seeking to “ban the box." 13 states and dozens of cities, including Illinois and Kansas City, Mo. have adopted similar measures.

St. Louis County does require job applicants to disclose prior convictions, but does not automatically disqualify potential employees based on their criminal record, said the Kirk McCarley, director of the County’s Personnel Division.