Brown Co. hoping to ‘ban the box’ on job applications

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) -- Last year, Wisconsin “banned the box,” the portion of a job application that asks applicants if they have a criminal record, on all state applications.

Now, Brown County is working toward the same goal for all county jobs.

“We could have the best candidate, the best team member, the most qualified person, but because they got in a bar fight 10 years ago, and they got a disorderly conduct or whatever, they have to check the box,” says Mark Becker, Brown County Supervisor. “What's stopping that hiring manager from saying, 'well I have 81 other people, I'm not going to waste my time with this person.”

That’s why county leaders are hoping to eliminate the box on Brown County applications that indicates past misdemeanor or felony convictions.

“The biggest reason people are kind of just dipping their toes in the water, so to speak, is because they don't know about it,” Becker says. “They don't understand that background checks are still going to be done. I mean, this changes nothing in terms of our process of hiring people.”

Former inmates say the box fosters a stigma, which holds them back from better opportunities.

“Since I’m a felon, I was charged when I was 18, and that’s my only charge. But it was a felony. So in my life, I was able to get my life together, but I still have that record,” says Cheri Branham. “Once I get in the interview, I can talk to them and prove who I am. But if they see that felony, they don't know what's going on in my life.”

Right now Brown County officials say one in four people would have to check that box – a number supporters of the movement say is just too big to ignore.

“We just want to give people the opportunity to actually sit down with the person face-to-face and say, ‘Hey, I was young. I was stupid. I did this, I did that,’” says Raymond Reed, the co-chair of ROC Prison Reform Brown County. “You know, we want people to at least have the opportunity to tell them why they had to check that box.”

As of now, Brown County applications already have deleted the box, but county leaders are working to make that a permanent change.

“We'll present in in an ordinance form,” Becker says. “So instead of just being something that says, 'Yes we stand behind this.' Now it's going to be law in Brown County. So that's the whole goal behind it.”

The county is set to vote on the ordinance in October.