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New “Don’t Ask” Plan Could Help Former Felony Offenders Find Work

November 6, 2007

Portland, OR – Starting a new life can be difficult enough after a felony conviction, but Multnomah County is removing at least one barrier. The county is eliminating a question on its job applications: the one that asks if the applicant has ever been convicted of a felony. County officials have decided they agree with those who say the question screens out prospective employees, even before they have the chance to prove their qualifications and rehabilitation success.

Patty Katz, who works with the "Beyond Barriers" program for the Partnership for Safety and Justice, says employers who make it easier for ex-offenders to get jobs also make it easier for them to stay out of prison. And that, she says, ultimately makes communities safer.

"If we can put people to work, they are able to pay their rent, support their children, they become productive members of society. It reduces recidivism by 45 percent -- that's almost half. It cuts down on crime and it makes our communities much safer."

Katz adds it also sets an important precedent for the county to take such an innovative step.

"This would remove a giant barrier and it gives private business permission to do the same thing."

Multnomah County joins a small number of other communities in the nation, including Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, all of which have removed the "prior felony conviction" question from their job applications.

Dondrea Warner/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR