Sunday, April 6, 2008

In Oakland, Felons Get All The Breaks

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums is at it again, this time pushing to cease asking job applicants whether they've been convicted of a felony in the past.

As with most Leftist proposals, this "don't mind the felony" policy starts out with the best of intentions. How can Oakland's tens of thousands of former inmates get ahead so long as they must repeatedly explain away their past indiscretions?

Not only that, but Dellums did spend enough time thinking about the issue to suggest eliminating the question only for jobs where a past conviction "should not be an issue." So, at least for now we needn't worry about convicted child molesters working in the schools.

The policy contains, however, a deeper flaw which is common to many Leftist plans. While it laudably seeks to raise up the downtrodden, it completely ignores the plight of those situated just above the downtrodden. Call them the semi-downtrodden.

For example, suppose a young man with little work experience decides to apply with the city for a job as a plumber. Now, this man doesn't have a great resume, but he did graduate from high school, and he's never been in trouble with the law. He's poor, but he's willing to work hard for an honest day's pay.

Another applicant comes along, with some experience as a plumber. This 30 year old does have a gap in his resume, as he spent five years in San Quentin for shooting his ex-wife in the arm with an unregistered handgun.

Who deserves the job?

The real answer is, "it depends." The person making the hiring decision should consider all relevant factors, including character, in making the assessment. However, under Oakland's new policy, the manager would have no way to know that the second applicant did time. So, he appears a far better candidate than the first applicant, despite the fact that with the prison information, the first applicant might be the right call.

The point is that decisions such as hiring are ultimately zero-sum games. We all know that the city government pays well, so it should come as no suprise to see numerous applicants for any given opening. Needless to say, when the government hires one person, it is rejecting all the other candidates.

So, while Dellums' policy could initially be viewed as only uplifting ex-convicts, this is not the whole story. It is simultaneously harming those with clean records who might otherwise have gotten jobs.

Now, I have nothing wrong with hiring ex-felons. I think people should do that if it makes sense. But I do have a problem with whitewashing people's backgrounds in service of an agenda.

I also take issue with the creation of what amounts to an anti-meritocracy. That is, the person who has done the most wrong receives the most benefit from the powers that be.

Maybe the government should seek out non-troublemakers for hiring. Maybe they should spend more time worrying about the victims of crime than the perpetrators.

Just an idea.


  1. I don't have a problem with hiring ex-offenders for City positions, but I do have a problem with what Dellums seems to want to do, which is prioritize them over others for City jobs. Take this line from his statement last week: "Last year, over 2,000 formerly incarcerated individuals applied for city of Oakland positions and we are currently in the process of finding these people jobs."

    I could be misreading it, but between that line and "Developing temporary work projects," it really seems like Dellums views the City as some kind of job creation program. Maybe some cities have enough money to function that way, but Oakland certainly doesn't.

  2. I'm fairly surprised by your take on this issue. While I agree with V that ex-felons shouldn't be prioritized over any other applicant, they should in no way be discriminated against because of this status.

    In past posts, you have stated your opposition to the war on drugs. So should people who have drug related felonies (like for selling marijuana) have to check a box and explain their crimes (which you don't seem to think should be crimes at all)?

    Also, I think it's naive to think that these ex-felons would be on equal footing to someone who hadn't served time. They have a huge built in disadvantage, since they all have a several year gap in their resume. As someone who's reviewed hundreds of resumes, I know that that alone would raise red flags and could ultimately be a huge disadvantage, with or without having to mark a check box.

  3. Great comments. A couple points:

    1. I would absolutely support saying something like "you do not need to check the box for non-violent drug convictions," as I do not view those as true crimes.

    2. I would not characterize what I support as "discrimination," which is typically a loaded term implying unfair prejudgment. Instead, I would characterize it as "full information."

    Incidentally, I work at an office with an employee who is a felon on parole. He was hired with full knowledge of this background, but he explained it clearly, and all was well.

    I do believe employers should give ex-convicts a shot where it makes sense. I just also believe employers should operate with full information.

  4. Glad we agree on number 1. On your second point, I think in a perfect world, that might wok, but I find that most people hold discriminatory views towards felons (or anyone who's served time). So until we change those views, I think getting rid of the check box is necessary.

  5. I've been reading the comments of Becks and "TheBoss".

    Clearly Becks has a good point, that people who have served time are at a disadvantage because "most people hold discriminatory views".

    Also I think that people who have worked at say, McDonalds flipping burgers, should not be required to disclose that, because most people hold discriminatory views.

    I also think that most people would not want to hire someone who had been fired repeatedly, so that should not be disclosed either.

    In fact, until we change these views, I think getting rid of ALL questions on an application is only appropriate....

    This is another instance of "The miracle that is Oakland"