Harris County adopts new ‘Fair Chance’ policy, no longer asking about criminal histories on county job applications

Here's what we know

HOUSTON – Harris County Commissioners adopted a plan Tuesday from Harris Attorney Christian Menefee to remove barriers for job candidates with criminal histories who apply for positions with the county.

The “Fair Chance Policy” was approved by a vote of 3-2.

The plan bans most Harris County agencies from including questions about criminal history on job applications.

“Study after study has shown that when employers ask the question of criminal history on the application, they tend to prescreen the applicant at that point and screen them out of the employment process,” Menefee said during a press conference Tuesday morning.

The policy also prohibits consideration of arrests that did not end in conviction, disqualifying applicants solely because of a conviction, and mandates criminal history checks be conducted only after a conditional offer of employment is made.

“When you do the check earlier in the process, and there hasn’t been a meaningful opportunity to engage the applicant, employers are more likely to screen them for their potential employer out of the process, whereas when it’s done later, and there’s more engagement by both sides, there’s more investment in the potential employee and applicant,” Menefee said.

He added that lack of employment is a primary reason some people with criminal histories re-offend.

“This policy is in part designed to combat that issue and make our communities safer. Ensuring that these folks are not only rehabilitated but able to reintegrate back into their communities and have gainful employment,” Menefee said.

Fallon Hamilton, an attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid, calls the move a game-changer. She specializes in clearing criminal records so people can get a job, but it’s a service that’s not available to everyone.

“We run into so many who aren’t qualified for record clearing but are so skilled, so talented and so eager to work that this will give them hope that ‘Hey, I can finally get an opportunity to prove myself,” Hamilton told KPRC 2 News.

Susan Freeman says the new policy provides others the help she needed before she was able to get her cases dismissed and removed from her record.

“Should I lie, should I not lie? You get used to hearing no or don’t even try to apply there because they’re not going to hire you, and it’s like, wait, I did this five years ago,” she said of the job application process when she had a criminal record.

In cases where state and federal law requires questions about criminal background on job applications, like law enforcement positions, Harris County will follow those laws.

Menefee said there will also be more scrutiny of applications for positions that deal with children, the elderly and transporting hazardous materials.

About the Author:

Emmy-winning journalist, native Houstonian, reader, dancer, yogi.