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‘Ban the Box' Bill Gathers Support

Pittsburgh Councilman Reverend Ricky Burgess is gathering support for his bill to remove the criminal history check from job applications.

The Aleph Institute of Squirrel Hill is now backing the effort to help formerly convicted Pittsburghers get job interviews in which they could explain their offenses.

Aleph Institute Director Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel said the "ban the box" legislation fits right into his group's mission to help formerly convicted Jews find jobs.

"The Talmud teaches us it's a greater mitzvah, greater good deed, to give a person a fishing net than a piece of fish. The fishing net here is, of course, the job," said Vogel. "Allowing them to be able to work, giving them the tools so they can become productive members of the community — it's imperative."

Vogel said former inmates are less likely to break the law again if they have a job. He said recidivism rates drop forty to sixty percent if the formerly convicted individual finds work.

Dean Williams of the Formerly Convicted Citizens Project helped Burgess write the bill. Williams said there are plenty of reasons to "ban the box."

"It behooves us, as a city, to employ people for our tax base," said Williams. "It increases our tax base. It reduces recidivism. It increases public safety. It gives people opportunities to provide for their families, so it doesn't trickle down to the kids."

Williams said the "ban the box" law wouldn't require employers to hire former inmates; rather, he said it would allow them to be considered at a level with other applicants.

Councilman Burgess said his legislation is on hold while city officials determine its breadth.

"Our original legislation was just city government, but now we're looking at private vendors, and even private employers," said Burgess. "The only way we can do that is to make sure we can enforce such a law and so, the Legal Department right now is weighing, 'How broad a net can we cast with this legislation?'"

The measure was first introduced in November 2011.