A committee of five senators in Georgia wants to provide more chances to erase criminal records and wants to make it harder for employers to access them.
The group is made up of senators Josh McKoon, R—Columbus, Hardie Davis, D—Augusta, Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, Butch Miller, R—Gainesville and Ronald Ramsey, D-Decatur.
The panel has formed with the purpose of helping those with criminal records. Their goal is to help criminals and ex-convicts by preventing employers, landlords and others from searching and finding their criminal histories. The intent is to help ex-convicts find jobs and find housing in communities because it’s proven that those who do not secure shelter and employment often end up back in prison.
The effort therefore seeks to prevent ex-convicts from going back to prison and have them function as successful members of society within communities. The Senate committee feels if employers are allowed access to convicted felons criminal backgrounds then their decision to hire a rehabilitated person is biased—the decision not to hire is based on past behavior and not the person’s current ability to perform the job and complete the tasks at hand.
The Senate committee put together a comprehensive report supporting their claim that allowing access to criminal background checks can lead to people with prior convictions to recidivate (go back to prison). It included testimony from lawyers and legal workers who have extensive experience with the issue.
The release of criminal background checks is seen as a detriment to many, as a way to allow an employer or landlord to unfairly determine a person’s ability to pay rent or complete job tasks based on past behavior. The Senate committee is therefore in favor of helping suppress their release. They want to decrease the amount of prisoners who recidivate and want to increase the number of productive members in society. Employers don’t quite see it this way though. Businesses appreciate having access to a potential employee’s criminal background and seek to continue having the freedom to check on people.
An attorney with the Savannah firm Hunter Maclean, who represents employers in this ongoing debate, said, “Employers should be able to ask questions about convictions.” She feels it’s up to the individual business and it should be their right to have whatever information is necessary to decide who they want to hire within their company. The employers obviously want to safeguard themselves and have their own interests in mind and would rather take the side of being overly-cautious in who they hire, or at least have the information available to make that decision, and are less concerned with overall societal impacts like recidivating.
It will be interesting to see if restricting access to criminal records ends up having an overall positive or negative impact in Georgia.