Clarifacts’ President Kevin Klimas was a guest on The Nonprofit Journal LIVE with Dee Suomala radio show on April 20, 2015 to discuss The Positive Impact of Volunteer Background Checks. The Nonprofit Journal is a leading authority on bridging the gap in communication between the non-profit sector and the community.
On the radio show, Klimas discussed the positive impact of background checks on volunteers who donate their time to non-profit organizations. He believes a stellar reputation is one of the greatest assets a non-profit can possess, and it needs to be protected.
Listening to the show, you’ll learn:
- The important role background checks play in non-profit organizations that bring on volunteers
- Ways to better protect your organization, assets, employees and other volunteers
- Warning of the “nationwide” criminal record database myth
Protect Your Reputation
At Clarifacts, we know that non-profit organizations provide valuable services in their community. Most non-profits rely on financial contributions from corporations and individuals. In turn, these donors need to trust that their resources are going to an upstanding organization.
We work with non-profit organizations like United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona, Jewish Family & Children’s Services, A New Leaf and Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center to help ensure their reputation as service organizations remain stellar, and that the clientele they serve is protected. We know special attention is needed when it comes to background screening your volunteers and employees.
Learn more about volunteer background checks and the vital role they play in non-profit organizations.
By Channing Turner, The Arizona Republic.
Staying competitive in today’s job market increasingly means staying on top of your bills, as more companies now check job candidates’ credit history to gauge their personal responsibility.
And while many people question the practice, career experts say maintaining good credit is now a necessity.
“It’s a very common practice for employers to be conducting background checks, even in smaller businesses,” says Kevin Klimas, president and founder of Phoenix-based Clarifacts Inc., which specializes in background checks.
Generally, credit-reporting agencies produce credit reports so lenders, landlords and other service providers can gauge an applicant’s personal responsibility before they offer credit or a service. Employers use reports in much the same way, says Linda Baugh, president of Ace Executive Careers in Phoenix.
Employers routinely check applicants for positions that involve financial responsibility, bookkeeping or sensitive customer information such as credit-card accounts, Klimas says. But under Arizona law, employers may check credit simply to measure a candidate’s “overall responsibility level.”
That bothers Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer-advocacy organization in San Diego.
“Unemployment is high now, and there are a lot of individuals, through no fault of their own, who have fallen behind on their bills,” he says. “That certainly is no indication that the individual is irresponsible. Rather, it’s misfortune that affects them.”
Klimas counsels employers to consider a candidate’s circumstances and to view credit as just one indicator in their overall background.
“People with lack of income may be a little behind in their bills, but if they’re working with creditors . . . that’s something that a lot of times will show up,” he says.
– The law.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, employers have the right to check a job applicant’s credit, but an employer must obtain permission before ordering a report. If the report causes an applicant to lose the job, the employer must show the report to the applicant and explain how to obtain a copy.
Once you get the job, employers have the right to periodically check credit for other employment purposes, such as promotion, retention or transfers. Once you give consent, your boss doesn’t need to ask again, Stephens says.
– What is reported.
The bulk of an employer’s credit report deals with credit history – paying your bills on time and any outstanding debts. It also lists creditors, the date an account opened, credit limit or amount of loan, and current balance.
Any closed or inactive account information stays on a report for seven to 11 years.
Credit scores are omitted, but bankruptcies remain in your history for 10 years.
– Improving your report.
Improving credit isn’t easy, Stephens says. He recommends that those considering employment obtain their credit report through a reporting agency and correct any inaccuracies immediately.
For those things you can’t change, Baugh recommends clearing the air.
“If financial challenges are going to show up, you need to address that,” she says. “Put yourself in the shoes of the employer, and think of any question they could ask you that would cause you discomfort. Be ready to answer that question – how’s your credit?”
By Jan Buchholz, The Phoenix Business Journal.
Arizona’s largest homeless shelter will open this weekend when 112 single-parent families move into the remodeled Days Inn motel at 3333 E. Van Buren St.
The project, undertaken on behalf of UMOM New Day Centers, required a huge investment from the Valley’s business and political communities, in terms of both cash investments and sweat equity. It
took more than two years to complete.
A huge block party is scheduled to start at 8 a.m. Saturday, with local dignitaries on hand. That’s also when the families will move from their current home across the street, the former site of the Sands Resort Motel.
Van Buren Street will be closed between 32nd and 38th streets to facilitate the move.
Phoenix Vice Mayor Tom Simplot, who also serves as president of the Arizona Multihousing Association, will kick off the grand opening with Phoenix City Councilman Michael Johnson, U.S. Airways Group CEO Doug Parker, Hensley Distributing CFO Andy McCain, and other business and community leaders.
The Phoenix Business Journal first reported on the campaign to create more livable accommodations for homeless families in October 2007. An impressive array of businesspeople arranged to buy the aging motel for $12 million and set about to raise an additional $6 million for improvements.
“We reached out $18 million goal in June,” said UMOM spokeswoman Jan Halpin. “There’s another $5 million to be raised that will go into phase two.”
For now, the organization is happy to provide the newly remodeled rooms and amenities for the families it serves.
Other local companies that participated in the fundraising and renovations were McMurry Publishing Inc., Kitchell Custom Homes, Weitz Co., Clarifacts Inc., Roberts/Jones Associates, Resident Data, Butte Cos., Bank of America, P.B. Bell Cos., Midwestern University, American Express, Fennemore Craig PC, U-Haul International, Get Your Move On, Northern Chemical, D’Zigns by Debi, Facings of America, Consumer Plumbing, Century Refrigeration, Burns Pest Elimination, Laguna Builders, Dakota Security, Cable-It Communications, Frazee Paint and Rotary Clubs of the Valley.
US Fed News.
ALEXANDRIA, Va., Sept. 24 — Clarifacts Inc., Phoenix, has been issued the trademark CLARIFACTS (Reg. No. 3682169) by the USPTO. The trademark application (serial number 77539757) was filed on Aug. 5, 2008 and was registered on Sept. 15. The services for which registration was sought are “Background Investigation And Research Services.”
For more information about US Fed News trademarks please contact: Sarabjit Jagirdar, US Fed News, Email:- email@example.com
People on the Move, The Phoenix Business Journal.
Kevin Klimas, founder and president of Clarifacts, was elected to the Background Screening Credentialing Council by
the National Association of Professional Background Screeners.
By Russ Wiles, The Arizona Republic.
Paying bills late and other credit problems can make it harder to land a job.
Employers increasingly are pulling credit reports on job applicants, as those reports may spotlight money problems that can hint at irresponsibility, inattention, dishonesty and other flaws.
“We’ve seen a radical shift over the last two years toward more background checks in general and credit checks in particular,” said Sherri Mitchell, chief executive officer of All About People, a hiring firm in Phoenix. “Employers seem to be asking, ‘If somebody can’t handle their own money, how can they manage ours?'”
For years, employers in banking and other financial fields have pulled credit reports on job applicants. Lately, that has spread to industries and positions that don’t involve money-handling.
“An employer might pull your report if you have access to a large amount of cash, access to confidential information, use expensive equipment or have access to company credit cards,” said Kevin Klimas, president of Clarifacts, a pre-employment screening firm in Phoenix.
Employers, he said, tend to focus on whether an applicant has paid bills on time, has triggered collection efforts and so on – and how such issues got resolved. Credit reports also list legal judgments and other public records, along with name and address changes.
Mitchell said she often encounters job seekers who think their credit records are better than they really are.
Applicants must offer consent before an employer pulls their records. Because credit reports aren’t always accurate, job applicants should check for errors and get them corrected. Anyone can order three free reports each year – one from each of the three credit bureaus – at www.annualcreditreport.com.
It’s wise to order all three, because each report may contain different information.
“As a job applicant, you should be intimately familiar with what’s in your credit report,” Klimas said.
By Carol Patton, Human Resource Executive Online.
Ever on the lookout for specialized talent, companies are turning to an unlikely source of labor: people with criminal pasts.
Joel Andino works as a morning merchandiser for the Pepsi Bottling Group in Mechanicsville, Va., where he writes orders and stocks store shelves with Pepsi products at large retailers such as Kmart and Wal-Mart. Over the last three years at Pepsi, he’s received three promotions while attending Virginia State University for a master’s degree in special education. He’s always on time, rarely takes time off and performs his job with pride.
Andino may be the ideal employee. But some employers would never consider hiring him because of his past. Andino spent three years in prison.
At age 22 in 2002, he was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 11 years at the Federal Correctional Institution in Petersburg, Va. To reduce his sentence, he voluntarily attended the prison’s boot camp for six months, where he says he learned discipline and an appreciation for the negative impact his behavior had on his family. In 2005, he was released to a halfway house.
During the next year, he applied for seven entry-level jobs, but never moved past the application phase. “I kind of felt they didn’t want to take chances with felons or people coming out of prison,” Andino says. “We all make mistakes in life. We all change. Pepsi looked for the positive in me instead of the negative.”
Always looking for specially skilled workers, some employers, such as Pepsi, are turning to an unconventional source for talent: ex-offenders. Many successfully hold jobs in a variety of industries, including construction, manufacturing and hospitality. Some even end up as role models. This unlikely match offers benefits to both sides. They help HR fill jobs — often jobs no one wants. In return, HR offers them a second chance.
The number of people incarcerated in local jails and state and federal prisons in this country exceeded 2.2 million in 2006, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That’s almost as many as those making up the entire population of Nevada. Nearly 650,000 inmates are released each year, living and working in communities across the country.
No one really knows how many are hired each year. Most are treated no differently than the rest of the employees. Many companies claim they don’t track that type of data. But some that do believe ex-offenders compose a very small percentage of their workforce.
At Hunter Douglas based in Upper Saddle River, N.J., fewer than 1 percent of the company’s 9,000 employees throughout North America were previously incarcerated, says Betty Lou Smith, vice president of corporate HR for the manufacturer and marketer of custom window fashions.
“We go through our normal recruitment process, asking if they had [job-related] experience before serving time,” she says, adding that recruiters also explain the job’s purpose and the training they’ll receive, and discuss work schedules and job requirements. “We don’t give them any break or treat them any differently.”
Many of the company’s job openings are for cutters and material handlers, which are hard-to-fill positions. Since there aren’t many fabricators or manufacturers of window coverings in the United States, Smith says, it’s rare to find applicants who possess these skills.
Approximately 3 percent of Hunter Douglas’ job applicants have criminal records, she says. Some come through temporary agencies and then land full-time jobs with the company. But all new hires are assigned a mentor for 90 days.
According to Smith, no one but the hiring manager is aware of the individual’s past. Mentors act more like friends, often assisting new employees with difficult tasks or answering questions they’re too afraid to ask their supervisor for fear of being reprimanded or terminated.
She tells the story of one employee who was hired through a temporary agency. He was a teenager when he committed armed robbery, but was tried as an adult and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
When he applied for a full-time job, he was up-front about his criminal past and simply wanted a break.
“We wish we could clone him — he’s one of our star employees,” Smith says, adding that he’s worked for the company for seven years. “He’s the highest-paid worker in his job category. He’s so proud of his work station.”
In cases involving ex-offenders, Smith says, it is especially incumbent upon recruiters to not allow personal biases to interfere with their hiring decisions.
Schneider National Inc., based in Green Bay, Wis., considers when the crime occurred, how it relates to the job the person is applying for and how honest the individual is about the crime, says Gilberto Herrera, enterprise recruiting manager at the trucking company, which employs more than 22,000 employees nationwide.
For example, an individual who hijacked a truck two years ago would not be hired. But if someone was incarcerated five years ago for a single drunk-driving offense, he says, the person would be considered.
Like Hunter Douglas, Schneider doesn’t create special recruiting or training programs for ex-offenders, who often apply for truck-driving positions. They complete the company’s standard four-to-six-week training course and are assigned a leader or mentor who keeps an eye on them for 90 days. Other than those who did the actual hiring, no one — direct supervisors included — is told about that individual’s criminal background.
While Herrera’s company doesn’t track the number of ex-inmates it hires, it considers them a viable source of talent. Many employers are reluctant, however, to admit they employ ex-offenders, fearing a backlash from their workforce, customers or community. Herrera says people with criminal pasts aren’t going to disappear from society and do have the right to work.
“This needs to reviewed and continually evaluated,” he says, referring to best practices for hiring ex-offenders. “Sharing of information is critical. A lot of organizations collaborate on other things. Why not this?”
Back in 1998, Allied Waste Services in Chicago, which provides collection, recycling and disposal services, wanted to outsource the sorting function of its recyclables. It contracted with Safer Foundation, a local nonprofit organization that helps people with criminal records find jobs and transition into the workplace, says Bob Kalebich, general manager of the Chicago facility.
After one year of working with more than 200 temporary sorters, “We found out that a lot had realized that they had made mistakes [in their pasts] and were looking somehow to better themselves,” he says. “A lot of them had education and skills we could use.”
Since then, the company has hired 10 ex-offenders through the foundation for positions that include mechanics, drivers, equipment operators and lead supervisors. But what Kalebich didn’t expect was a drop in employee turnover.
Before working with the foundation, turnover stood at roughly 10 percent. Now it’s 3.5 percent, he says, adding that his company has 120 employees and another 220 temporary workers provided by the foundation. He says many of these workers are grateful for their jobs and the company’s support, trust and confidence in them. Kalebich believes hiring them sends a message of good will. More than likely, he says, jobs prevent them from returning to crime, which, in turn, creates a stronger, safer community.
“Every time you go to the street to hire, you don’t know what peoples’ backgrounds are, what type of trouble they’ve encountered in the past or how they’ll represent your company,” he says. “You’re always taking a risk no matter what you do.”
So HR must apply common sense when hiring individuals with criminal convictions to avoid potential legal problems, says John Robinson, senior employment law partner at Fowler White Boggs Banker, a Tampa, Fla.-based law firm.
Some of his suggestions include:
- Remove temptations. Don’t hire them for positions that may tempt them to return to their old ways. You may be setting them and your company up to fail. Robinson points to employers who hire people with a history of theft in jobs as cashiers or other positions that give them easy access to cash.
- Avoid public risk. Is there a chance the public could be in harm’s way if this individual is hired for this position? Take individuals with serious drug or alcohol-related offenses. Robinson says it would be very risky — maybe even negligent — to hire them as truck drivers.
- Get perspective. It’s much easier to forgive people who committed nonviolent crimes when they were young. Don’t only focus on the crime. Consider the age and circumstances of the individual at the time the crime was committed.
- Check references. Sometimes, HR can get quality information from halfway houses or prison-release programs. Also ask about any temporary jobs that the person may have held.
- Ask job candidates to describe their convictions. Then compare them to their background checks. Did they omit important information? Did they sugarcoat their crimes? Were there other crimes they were convicted for that they never mentioned? Robinson says these are all signs of future trouble.
- Inform the supervisor about their past. This way, supervisors can better accommodate their needs, such as checking in with parole officers. But should you tell other workers about that employee’s criminal past? Only on a need-to-know basis, Robinson says.
“America is the land of second chances,” says Robinson. “I salute companies that do this, but I think you have to go in with eyes wide open.”
HR professionals may be surprised to learn how many job applicants have criminal histories.
Of the thousands of employee background checks conducted each month by Clarifacts, a national pre-employment screening company based in Phoenix, between 5 percent and 8 percent have been convicted of a crime but may not have served jail or prison time, says Kevin Klimas, the company’s president. Their crimes run the gamut. Most ex-offenders tell the truth, he says. But some water it down. Those with multiple convictions may only admit to a lesser offense.
While the nature of a person’s crime is an important consideration for hiring managers, so is what the individual has accomplished behind bars or since being released from prison. During the interview, ask if they completed any programs, such as vocational training, drug rehabilitation or correspondence courses, or if they enrolled in college, says Ron Pilenzo, president and CEO of The Global HR Consultancy, an HR consulting firm in Hobe Sound, Fla.
He says a considerable number of ex-offenders come from poverty-stricken homes, are high-school dropouts or drug addicts, and possess minimal job skills — all factors in an employer’s reluctance to hire them. Almost 68 percent are re-arrested within three years. To reduce the recidivism rate and decrease $60 billion in federal corrections expenditures and more than $38.2 billion needed to maintain the nation’s state correctional system, key changes have been introduced.
More prisons are now offering training in vocational trades. At other correctional facilities, such as those in Virginia, inmates can enroll in online college courses and degree programs, he says. Currently, approximately eight states, including Arizona, California and Oregon, support call centers in state prisons, according to the Enterprise Prison Institute in Bethesda, Md., which creates employment and training opportunities for ex-offenders.
The Second Chance Act of 2007, which is still pending in Congress, gives money to states for re-entry programs and grants to nonprofit organizations to provide mentoring and transitional services to ex-offenders.
Employers can also receive a tax credit through the Work Opportunity Tax Credit program — of up to $2,400 — for hiring individuals previously incarcerated.
Likewise, the 42-year-old Federal Bonding Program created by the U.S. Department of Labor, which provides incentives to employers to hire ex-offenders as well as other at-risk applicants, now covers any job in any state.
“From a social and taxpayer standpoint, every time we put someone behind bars, it costs $25,000 a year,” says Pilenzo.
“If we want to keep our taxes low and make people productive and reduce crime, we have to find these people jobs.”
In its inaugural list of the top 35 entrepreneurs in Arizona who are 35-years-old and younger, bizAZ set out to find those individuals who had a proven track record for running successful businesses and those who were going above and beyond their peers.
Clarifacts founder Kevin Klimas was fortunate to be counted among this list of up-and-coming entrepreneurs who are working hard to build a thriving business community in the Valley and throughout Arizona.
By Judy Greenwald, Business Insurance Magazine.
Employers must navigate a careful course in conducting employee background checks.
Conducting background checks helps to protect firms’ workers and customers and can shield companies from potential liability for negligence if a worker subsequently commits a crime.
But employers also must avoid the risk of violating federal and state laws that mandate background checks be conducted in a nondiscriminatory manner, protect against violating applicants’ privacy and maintain workers’ confidentiality.
The key is developing a well-crafted policy, say observers. “There’s some hoops to jump through,” but essentially, an employer must develop a narrowly tailored policy that is consistent with the job requirements and/or the public safety issues that must be addressed, said Larry R. Wood Jr., an attorney with Pepper Hamilton L.L.P. in Philadelphia.
Background checks are widely used. According to a 2004 survey by the Alexandria, Va.-based Society for Human Resource Management, 96% of respondents indicated their organizations conduct some form of background or reference check on job applicants.
“They’re critical,” said Courtney Larsen, human resources director for Phoenix-based Take Charge America Inc., a nonprofit credit counseling agency. She noted that the agency’s counselors have access to clients’ personal financial information. “We want to screen those folks as thoroughly and as carefully as possible,” she said.
It is important, though, that the background check be done correctly, experts say. Negligently conducted background checks will leave the employer with as much exposure “as if they didn’t do it at all,” said Craig R. Annunziata, an employer attorney with Fisher & Phillips L.L.P. in Chicago.
There have been cases, for instance, where an employer failed to check all the counties where an applicant had lived, and did not learn the applicant was a registered sex offender. “You can imagine what a jury would do with that,” he said.
Employers who are sued for negligent hiring have minimized their risks if they previously conducted a background check, said Kevin Klimas, president of Phoenix-based Clarifacts Inc., an employment screening firm. “They’re going to have data showing they’ve done their due diligence.”
Despite its somewhat misleading name, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, as well as parallel state laws, applies when employers conduct background checks through third parties. Under provisions of these laws, employers must notify applicants that a background check may be performed and obtain their written consent.
Furthermore, the applicant must be given an opportunity to respond if the background check reveals adverse information about the applicant that could lead to the withdrawal of a job offer. FCRA provisions also affect the disposal of background check information.
“We see a lot of issues arising on how to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and there are probably a number of employers out there who are still unaware that when they are paying a third-party service provider to do criminal background checks, they fall under the auspices of the FCRA,” said John F. Lomax Jr., an employer attorney with Greenberg Traurig L.L.P. in Phoenix.
Employers also must be concerned about Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations, which provide that obtaining criminal records inconsistently, whether based on the race, color, religion, national origin or sex of the applicant, is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For example, doing background checks only on Muslims is a violation of the law.
Generally, the factors that must be considered in making hiring decisions in cases where there is an arrest or conviction include the nature and gravity of the offense, the time since the conviction and/or completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job held or sought, according to the EEOC.
“If you’re going to (reject an applicant), it has to be reasoned through and justified,” said Carol Miaskoff, EEOC assistant legal counsel in Washington.
An employer may be willing to hire an office worker with a driving while intoxicated conviction, but not if the applicant is seeking a job as delivery service driver, said Mr. Annunziata.
“I always say to my clients, `Don’t automatically exclude someone from being employed just because they’re a convicted criminal, unless it makes sense,”‘ said Mr. Annunziata.
“You don’t want to exclude any group from going through the process, and you want standards that are applied consistently across the board,” said Jenifer DeLoach, Nashville, Tenn.-based senior vp with risk consulting firm Kroll Inc., a subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc.
Observers note, however, that employers still retain the right to reject or fire anyone who makes a false statement on a job application.
Privacy is a related issue. “There’s definitely a fine line between making sure that you’ve done a proper background check” and invading privacy, said Mr. Klimas. “If you’re screening an employee properly, then you’re not going after information that is not public record,” such as personal medical histories, he said.
“You’re simply seeing what is available publicly,” which could include criminal and driving records, said Mr. Klimas.
Furthermore, once the background check is complete, disclosing it within the firm should be only on a “need to know” basis, said Kim Kerr, vp of background screening solutions at the Boca Raton, Fla.-based LexisNexis Risk & Information Analytics Group.
“We recommend a team approach” to disclosing the information only to representatives from human resources, security, the legal department and line managers, he said. “You really need to go through the matrix of risk associated with that information and make sure everyone” in these areas agrees “this is a good hire,” said Mr. Kerr.
By Marisa Schultz, The Detroit News.
More than 1,100 Michigan ex-cons had their criminal records erased in the first six months of this year, an almost 60 percent increase that coincided with heightened scrutiny of school and health employees statewide.
With their records expunged by judges, former criminals escape detection of background checks that might have banned them from sensitive jobs or made it harder for them to find work. They also can legally tell potential employers that they have no convictions.
In the first six months of 2006, 1,124 records were erased from the 1,258 ex-cons who applied — about a 60 percent increase from the 708 ex-cons who had their records erased in the first six months of 2005 out of 939 who applied.
The growing practice amplifies the divide between those who believe that former convicts deserve a chance at redemption and those who want access to the criminal histories of educators, coaches, maids, nannies, neighbors, health care workers, other employees — or virtually anyone else.
“It’s a fine line. Should an applicant have the right to a clean start? But shouldn’t an employer have the right to protect its business, its assets and the general public?” said Kevin Klimas, president and founder of Clarifacts, a Phoenix-based employment screening firm. “There is an argument on both sides of the fence.”
Melodee Bush has seen both sides of the argument, but falls on the side of public access.
“People have a right to know who you are dealing with,” said Bush, 33, a Detroit mom who relied on day care for her two children. She has a family member seeking an expungement. “It gives you a false sense of security. That doesn’t sit well with me.”
Yet as lawmakers have required background checks for more employees, more lawbreakers have gone to judges to have their felonies or misdemeanors erased.
The increase was especially apparent in March, April and May, after the Michigan State Police released to districts the results of background checks of all public school employees.
“These were our highest three months ever,” said Shanon Akans, spokeswoman for the State Police, which removes records from public view.
First offenders get a break
Michigan is one of a dozen states that permit expungement of adult felony offenses. It’s one of four, along with New Jersey, Rhode Island and Ohio, that limit this privilege to first offenders, said Margaret Colgate Love, former U.S. Justice Department pardon attorney whose book, “Relief From the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction” will be released later this year.
“Ever since 9/11, there has been almost an obsession with knowing people’s backgrounds,” said Love, whose book offers a state-by-state guide to expungement policies. “As long as you have the invasive record checks, you can’t get jobs and you can’t get housing. There has to be a way to get out from under this. There has to be a time when you’ve paid your debt to society.”
To be eligible in Michigan, a person can have only one conviction and has to stay out of trouble for five years after sentencing or incarceration, whichever is later. The person cannot have been convicted of a serious sex crime, a traffic offense or a crime that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
There has been an effort in Lansing to liberalize the requirement, making the wait two years for misdemeanor convictions. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Mary Waters, D-Detroit, has passed the House and is expected to be taken up soon in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Waters said.
Around Metro Detroit, requests to set aside convictions are steady.
“For the most part, these are people who have come to the point in their lives where they need this to be a nonpublic record,” said Anica Letica, assistant Oakland County prosecuting attorney in the appellate division. “They really have turned their lives around.”
Such was the case for Titiana Tillbrooke, who was arrested at age 19 for writing checks worth $1,200 to herself from her employer. Convicted of uttering and publishing, she served time in prison. Upon her release, she couldn’t find work.
“On the inside I was dying,” said Tillbrooke, now 35. “But I had to live for my husband and kids. I wished I could die. I wished I could get out of this. Why am I being held back?”
Once her conviction was expunged, Tillbrooke received many job offers. She used the same resume as before. But this time, employers called her back after the background check phase of an interview, she said.
“It was a change from night to day,” said Tillbrooke, now an accounting assistant. “It was awesome. People actually wanted me.”
Easy process rankles some
While there’s no guarantee a judge will set aside a conviction, the odds are very good and the process remarkably simple.
Using a little-publicized 1965 state law, ex-convicts can fill out a one-page application, pay $50 and get fingerprinted to verify they haven’t had further criminal convictions. They then go before a judge for a hearing.
Judges around the state granted nearly 90 percent of the set-aside applications this year, a fact that doesn’t sit well with everyone.
“It’s harder for a law-abiding citizen to get their name changed in this state,” said Allison Muhammed, who faced many roadblocks when she changed her name from Dennis.
People convicted of any crime should not be allowed to care for children or the elderly, said Muhammed, whose children are in day care in Detroit. But it’s upsetting that parents would never know with certainty whether a caretaker is felony-free, she said.
Timothy Romisch, a former teacher at Southfield Christian School, was one of 134 whose request was denied between January and June. He petitioned to have his 1986 conviction for attempting to accost a 14-year-old female Holland student for immoral purposes removed.
Now his teaching certificate is being revoked.
On the flip side, one Armada Schools cafeteria worker easily had her shoplifting conviction set aside, as it’s formally called.
“I paid $50 in court fees and I went into the courtroom,” said Diane Stringer, 47. “The judge said, ‘My, this has been on (your record) for a long, long time.’ And before I could say anything, she said, ‘We will expunge it from “ the record and you can leave now.’
Stringer shoplifted at Universal Mall in Warren when she was 17. It was a stupid mistake, she said, but she hasn’t been in trouble since.
Are checks undermined?
When deciding whether to set aside convictions, judges want to know if the individuals have bettered themselves, said Macomb Chief Circuit Judge Antonio Viviano. If they have, is it useful for an employer to know a person’s criminal history if, in a judge’s opinion, he is no longer a threat? Viviano asked.
The answer is yes, said Craig Lawrence of United Risk Partners, a Chicago area firm that does background checks for employers. “Just because a judge says yes, it’s OK to expunge records, that doesn’t mean that person won’t engage in the behavior in the future,” he said.
Expunged records undermine the purpose of background checks, Lawrence said.
“The whole point is that past conduct and behavior are predictable tools to determine what future behavior will be,” he said. “Human beings are creatures of habit.”
You can reach Marisa Schultz at (313) 222-2310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.