Arizona is joining more than two dozen other states in giving convicted felons a foot in the door for employment.
In an executive order Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey directed state personnel officials to “ban the box,” eliminating any questions on initial job applications about whether a person has a criminal record.
None of that keeps the question from coming up. But the concept, according to the governor, is to ensure that people are not eliminated from even being considered.
“This is to allow people that have paid their debt to society, who have served their time, to have some hope of a job or a career or an opportunity,” Ducey said.
The idea is not new. The National Employment Law Project reports 29 states already have similar laws or policies in place.
The group also says nine states have eliminated the question for private employers, something the governor’s executive order does not do.
Several Arizona cities, including Tucson, Tempe and Phoenix, have similar policies.
But Ducey, who has pushed for programs for years to reduce recidivism, has put something else into the new plan: Money for transportation.
Under a deal with Uber, the ride-sharing company will put up $5,000 to help people get to their job sites if public transit is not available, whether because of geography or simply the time of day. That is contingent on a dollar-for-dollar match from the state, which the Governor’s Office said will be come from existing funds within the Department of Corrections.
Ducey said the change in applications for jobs in state government is designed to ensure at least some ex-inmates get a chance to make their case to state agencies that they’re good employment prospects.
The governor said that at some point the question of an applicant’s criminal record will become part of the job interview and screening. And he said it will be at that point when it is determined if the crime is relevant.
“We’re going to continue to protect public safety,” Ducey said. “We’re going to make sure to the best of our ability we’re hiring the right people and putting them in the right places.”
So, for example, none of this will affect the hiring process for the state Department of Public Safety.
But the governor said it’s important to provide some options for former inmates to make a living — options other than returning to a life of crime.
“What can we do when we’re having thousands of people that are coming out of our state prisons if there’s not an opportunity provided to them?” he asked. “They don’t have an opportunity to do anything except make a bad decision.”
Nothing in the order affects — or could affect — private companies.
“I don’t set policy for private employers,” the governor said. “We’re trying to lead the way in terms of examples from state government.”
Still, Ducey conceded he understands their hesitation.
“I think this is something that people may not understand, people like myself that are ‘law-and-order’ individuals and want to see a safe community,” he explained. “I’m hopeful that some other private-sector employers will follow suit.”
Ducey said this is similar to a policy he enacted this year that allows state employees at many agencies to bring their newborns to work “so they didn’t have to make a decision between career and family, they could continue to have that bond.”
The governor said he has heard that some private companies are now doing the same thing.
The announcement about the application process comes as the state trotted out details for a new “re-entry center” near the main jail in downtown Phoenix for released inmates who have violated conditions of their release and otherwise would wind up back in prison.
Under Arizona law, offenders are released after serving 85 percent of their sentence. But they remain under “community supervision” for the balance of their sentence.
Sometimes, a former inmate in that category fails a drug test or some other condition of release but has not committed any new crimes.
Before the re-entry center, the Department of Corrections could either ignore the violation or put the person back behind bars. Under the latter option, the person would lose their job.
The re-entry center for Maricopa County, first proposed by Ducey in 2016, provides a place for former inmates to spend a few weekends locked up while also getting drug counseling. But they are released during the week for jobs.
A re-entry facility in North Phoenix, one that provoked opposition from neighbors who were not notified first, will be closed.
The new center provides for a more central location, officials said. None of this affects a similar re-entry facility that has been open in Tucson since 2012.