Demetrius Ivory is a 43-year-old single dad. He’s proud that his son wants to go to college to study engineering, but he’s afraid that he won’t be able to finance it. Ivory works as the maintenance supervisor at Koinonia Worship Center in Hallandale Beach and takes on odd jobs in catering and home repair to make ends meet. Ivory is grateful he has a job but has dreamed of the salary and benefits that come with steady employment — ideally, a government job with Broward County.
But a county job has always seemed out of reach. For the last 19 years, Ivory says he has applied for so many positions in the waste management and water and sewer departments that he has lost track. Ivory estimates he's filled out as many as 100 applications. Despite having a high school diploma and relevant work experience, Ivory says he never received a call back.
Ivory and other workers in his position believe they're passed over because of a little box on Broward County job applications that asks about the applicant’s criminal history. Nineteen years ago, when Ivory was 24, he went to jail for seven months on a marijuana possession charge. He says it was a stupid mistake, he served his time, and has never been in trouble since. Yet on every Broward County application, Ivory ticks the box that asks whether he had been arrested or charged with a crime.
“I just stare at it [on the application],” Ivory says. “A lot of people skip [the question] or lie. I don’t want to be found lying, but I know they judge you like that. I don’t know why this has to be so hard.”
Now the SEIU, members of the Broward Clergy, and workers like Ivory are supporting a proposed ordinance to ban the section — the box — on county job applications that asks applicants to disclose criminal history. The ordinance, which is being sponsored by commissioner Dale Holness, is scheduled for its first reading at the Broward County commission meeting today and the final vote will be June 14. The idea is for applicants to be judged on their skills without the stigma of an arrest or conviction. The ordinance won’t ban background checks — the county can still conduct those in the final stages of hiring — but proponents argue that banning the box will give applicants, many of whom are like Ivory and made a mistake when they were young, a fair chance to be hired for county work.
“I feel that without the box, they’ll hire me,” Ivory says. “I have many skills and pick up on things quick.”
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The local initiative is part of a national movement to “Ban the Box.” So far, 23 states (not including Florida) and more than 100 cities and counties have passed similar legislation. Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa have already passed similar measures and last October, Miami-Dade county did, too—except there, the measure was amended to not include police, fire rescue, or corrections departments.
Research shows that people of color are disproportionately affected by the criminal history questions. It takes African-Americans with past convictions three times as long to get a call back or a job offer than non-black applicants. After "Ban the Box" legislation passed in Durham, North Carolina, there was a spike in people with prior convictions hired for county jobs—up from 2 percent to 15 percent in three years.
Meanwhile, Ivory is determined. He vows to keep fighting to ban the box and will continue applying for county jobs. One day, he hopes to get a call back.
“I want to better myself and have more for my son,” Ivory says. “I’m not a person who gives up.”