Kim Donald wants a job that pays well enough so that she can take care of her children and live in a neighborhood where open drug dealing isn’t the norm.
Donald is a felon convicted of child neglect in 2007 after her 10-month old son died because he starved to death. Mother and son had cocaine in their system because she was breastfeeding him at the time. Released from prison 23 months ago after she earned an early release, Donald has been trying to put her life back together.
Now clean and sober, the best job she could get resulted in her receiving — after paying child support and supervision fees — $5 an hour. At one job, her weekly paycheck was $175 a week.
Donald isn’t looking for sympathy. She just wants to work and accepts that her past will likely always haunt her. Still, she is determined to get a decent paying job and be a better example for her nine children that she doesn’t have custody of right now. But every time she applies for a job, she is asked on the job application if she is a felon.
“For the jobs I’ve applied to that do pay well, the applications often ask if I am a felon and I have to say yes,” she said. “When I check that box, I don’t even get an interview even though I have the qualifications. And I am instantly judged before I have even had the chance to interview on jobs that I’ve been qualified to do.”
Ban The Box Movement Offers Second Chances For Employment
Donald’s story is among the reasons why the City of Racine removed the box from its job application asking if potential hires have been convicted of a felony criminal offense for most jobs.
Now several Common Council members want to see the city implement a formal written policy.
“Ban the box” ordinances bar asking the question on a job application. The city also still conducts a background check on all potential new hires and uses the Wisconsin Fair Employment Law to protect the community from hiring some types of felons for some types of positions. The employment law standard is used to determine if a felon’s record would substantially related to the circumstances of the particular job or licensed activity.
“We are already very engaged in hiring people from prison re-entry programs,” said Tim Thompkins, the hiring director from the City of Racine.
The city often places people who have had prior drug convictions in positions in seasonal jobs, the sanitation department, and some park maintenance positions. The jobs can pay up to $14 to $15 an hour.
“These are people who deserve a second chance and we’ve seen a great deal of success in helping people become more grounded in the community,” Thompkins said. “But we really have a heart to heart with people, that the city is giving them a second chance and it’s really up to them to make this work.”
If the employee is honest, shows up for work on time, listens to management, and does the job well, the arrangement turns to into a long-term employment success, Thompkins said.
But with some positions — including police and fire — felons are automatically screened out because it has a policy of not hiring felons.
“We’re just not using the application process to screen people in or out of these other jobs,” he said.
Ban the Box: A bipartisan effort
The ban the box movement is part of a larger nationwide initiative to allow convicted felons who have served out their prison sentences to work in government positions. Governor Scott Walker included a ban the box provision in a civil service bill passed in 2016.
And now Racine is part of the movement. Aldermen Mollie Jones, Michael Shields, Mary Land, Henry Perez, Melissa Lemke and Jason Meekma want to meet with the Finance and Personnel Committee to request that the city implement a formal policy around Ban the Box.
“I think it’s about giving opportunities to people that were not available to people previously,” Meekma said. “These are people who have already served their time and if you don’t give people a chance to be better, they are not going to get better.”
This is good news for Donald. She sees the movement as a key to her success and hopes other companies will implement the same policy.
“It’s like people don’t believe in our justice system. I’m sure some people don’t change, but I’m one that has changed,” she said.