APNewsBreak: Ohio to remove checkbox asking about convictions from civil service applications

Associated Press

Criminal offenders will no longer encounter a checkbox requiring them to reveal past convictions on Ohio's civil service application beginning June 1.

Ohio is voluntarily joining the "ban the box" movement and removing the yes-or-no question that applies to thousands of state government positions, including highway workers, prison guards, social workers and lawyers. The move comes amid growing national concern that the checkbox about a person's criminal history can deter offenders from seeking jobs and cause employers to miss out on qualified applicants, state officials told The Associated Press.

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Human resources officers at Ohio agencies were being briefed on the change Thursday and Friday.

More than 10 states and dozens of municipalities have removed the box since civil rights groups began their push for it in the 1990s. More recently, states have begun passing legislation banning the use of the box by private sector employers. Some business groups have pushed back, saying it could put them at risk of a potential crime.

Ohio Administrative Services Director Robert Blair said Ohio came to the conclusion that checking "yes" on the box may have served as a quick way for agencies in the past to rule out applicants inside a state government that receives some 250,000 job applications a year. He said it's impossible to know how many jobseekers Ohio has rejected because they checked the box or how many didn't even apply for fear a conviction would disqualify them.

"You have some kid that's now 40 years old who got in a scrape when he was 21, and that's the kind of kid you want to help out," Blair said.

Stephanie Louka, the state's human resources chief, said other applicants may have had serious convictions, but they have been rehabilitated and would make a good fit for one of the roughly 4,000 state jobs that Ohio fills in an average year.

Civil service applicants in Ohio will still be asked to disclose past crimes during job interviews, and finalists for state jobs will undergo background checks, but Blair said the new practice allows people to explain the circumstances surrounding their offenses.

The box is being removed from both online and paper applications.

Louka said there are still some jobs where a candidate with a certain type of conviction would be disqualified — for example, wildlife officers or employees with responsibilities over state money. Those circumstances will still be fully disclosed on the job posting.

"We don't want to be in the position of 'gotcha' with the candidate," she said.