The University of California prides itself on its diverse students with varying backgrounds and experiences. The same should be said for its employees.
The UC announced in July it will no longer ask prospective employees to mark on their job applications whether they have been convicted of a crime. Instead, potential employees will only have to reveal past crimes during a final background check before employment.
The policy, which goes into effect in October, is a positive step for the UC. Universities should be a place of second chances, and applications should afford formerly incarcerated people a fair chance of being assessed based on their merits before their backgrounds become factors.
In order to display the effectiveness of the change, the UC should disclose in its annual Staff Workforce Profile how many formerly incarcerated people are being hired. Releasing benchmark data of past levels of employment and the workplace demographics resulting from the policy change would help the public to assess whether the practice really does provide more job opportunities for applicants with criminal records.
To be clear, the new policy does not eliminate background checks altogether, but simply removes extra obstacles for applicants with criminal records. If a person with a criminal record applies, the hiring staff will assess the level of the crime and its relevance to the position being applied to, according to an email statement sent by a UC spokesperson to the Daily Californian. This, in turn, allows the UC to consider a wider pool of qualified workers.
UCLA has already taken strides to make formerly incarcerated students feel welcome in the Bruin community. The Underground Scholars Initiative, a group that provides resources to students who were incarcerated or have family members who were, had 12 UCLA students in its first graduating class in spring 2017.
This is a promising sign for the UC. Providing more job opportunities to those with criminal records won’t just help reduce recidivism rates in a state already plagued with overcrowded prisons, but also further improves the diversity of the University’s employment workforce.
But merely asking applicants to disclose prior criminal records at a later stage in the hiring process doesn’t guarantee hiring staff won’t be biased toward people with criminal records. As such, the UC should release data about the results of this policy so the public can evaluate its execution.
Of course, it may seem that publishing these employment statistics would pressure the UC to hire an incommensurate number of formerly incarcerated applicants, but that’s a hard stretch. Publishing hiring statistics of those with criminal records wouldn’t coerce the UC into drastically changing its employment practices, but would allow for groups like the Underground Scholars Initiative to see the efficacy of the hiring policy change and advocate for the needs of formerly incarcerated people should the policy not noticeably increase job opportunities for them.
After all, at an institution that grants diverse students the ability to better their futures through education, criminal records should not automatically disqualify hardworking and passionate employees from receiving job offers.