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Wisconsin activists push for removal of criminal history box on job applications

By Gilman Halsted Wisconsin Public Radio A coalition of groups representing ex-offenders is calling on federal contractors to be more willing to hire people who have served time in prison. WISDOM, a Wisconsin faith-based prison reform group is jo...

By Gilman Halsted

Wisconsin Public Radio

A coalition of groups representing ex-offenders is calling on federal contractors to be more willing to hire people who have served time in prison.

WISDOM, a Wisconsin faith-based prison reform group is joining the National Ex-Offenders Re-Entry Project in an effort to get companies that do business with the federal government to eliminate the box on their job applications that ask about an applicant's criminal record.

David Liners of WISDOM said too often when applicants check the box, they never get a chance to be interviewed.

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"At least give people a chance to get past that initial application and be able to explain themselves," said Liners. "When their conviction history becomes an issue let it be at a moment that they can actually say here's what happened, here's what's changed in my life since then."

In a July address to the NAACP, President Barack Obama praised large companies that have done away with the felony box and urged others to follow suit. Ex-offender advocacy groups are hoping the president will follow up his praise soon by issuing an executive order requiring all federal contractors to stop asking the question.

According to Liners, 18 states and more than 100 cities have already removed the box from applications for state and local government jobs. Walmart, Target and Wisconsin's largest federal contractor, the Oshkosh Corp., recently did the same. Liner's said Oshkosh has gone a step further and encouraged applications from ex-offenders who can prove their qualifications.

Members of WISDOM held a "day of action" Tuesday, attempting to hand-deliver a letter to the CEO of AECOM, an engineering firm working on a federal contract in Milwaukee, asking the company to join the effort to ban the felony box. But company refused them entry to the building. AECOM is one of several federal contractors nationwide that reformers in several other cities also targeted this week.

In an email, a spokesman for AECOM said the company has already eliminated question about criminal records from its application forms, saying it's, "consistent with our core values to encourage a diverse and qualified applicant pool."

More WPR news is available on KUWS-FM 91.3 or online at wpr.org.

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