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Posted on: July 28, 2020

Mayor Lee Harris’ Update Regarding the Commission’s FINAL VOTE to “Ban the Box” of Criminal Inquiry

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Yesterday, the County Commission took the final vote on our Ban the Box ordinance, and approved the measure.

Ban the Box is an effort by our administration and the Shelby County Board of Commissioners to create a new countywide policy that eliminates inquiry into criminal history from most Shelby County Government employment applications. After many months of work, this new ordinance to “ban the box” is now local law.

Ban the Box is critical if we are going to have public safety, which has to include a meaningful path for ex-offenders to re-integrate back into society. Our recidivism rates here, and around the country, are staggering. Nearly half of those with criminal history are re-arrested within 3 years after release. Meaningful employment, or lack thereof, is at the root of this vicious cycle. Ex-offenders who find employment are significantly more likely to avoid additional crime, return back to prison, and stay in that vicious cycle. We will never have public safety unless we work at re-entry and commit to reintegrating ex-offenders back into society.

In addition, Ban the Box, like most criminal justice reforms, is also good fiscal policy. When formerly incarcerated individuals are employed, even for a short amount of time, recidivism rates decrease considerably. As incarceration goes down, the costs to incarcerate also drops. Right now, it costs our county nearly $100 per day to house inmates at our county jail. Policies that prevent inquiry into criminal history from being included on employment applications expand job opportunities for ex-offenders, and benefit community that would otherwise have to incur the high cost of incarceration and the criminal justice complex.

Finally, Ban the Box is critical if we are to live up to our faith traditions that promise redemption. As many as 70 million men and women have a criminal history of arrest or conviction. Ban the Box is one of the ways we give individuals who have served their time a fresh start and second chance.

I am thankful for the many supporters of the Ban the Box ordinance. When this item received opposition, many members of the public made phone calls to the Commission, expressing their support for criminal justice reforms, and that outreach pulled this item back from the brink. Thank you Just City, Lifeline to Success, the Memphis Urban League, NAACP Collierville, Advance Memphis, Senior Pastor Rufus Smith of Hope Church, HopeWorks, President & CEO of Agape Child and Family Services David Jordan, KLAP, Inc., former District Attorney Bill Gibbons, and the many members of MICAH, the local movement where people of faith are coming together to make government focus on our most urgent problems.

Thanks to all.

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