Bronson ‘Bans the Box’ asking about criminal past


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo’s largest employer will no longer ask job applicants if they have been convicted of a crime.

Bronson Healthcare made the move earlier this month, removing the section of its application form that asks about criminal convictions.

But the program doesn’t relax the rules when it comes to keeping people with certain misdemeanor and felony convictions off the payroll. You still won’t be able to get a health care job if you’ve been convicted of certain crimes listed under the State Workforce Legal Guide.

Bronson Healthcare in Kalamazoo. (April 13, 2017)

Bronson’s decision is part practicality, part social experiment.

Bronson Director of Diversity and Inclusion Beth Washington said a mandatory background check finds past convictions regardless of whether there’s a space on the application to list them.

“We simply removed, ‘Have you ever been convicted and make a list of it,’ because we’re going to see that list on the background check,” Washington said. “The reality is that the background check is extensive and comprehensive and always is going to keep people out who are not safe to be in the health care setting.”

Bronson joined the ‘Ban the Box‘ movement, a policy adopted by a number of states and communities — including the City of Kalamazoo — that supporters say removes bias from the hiring practice.

“Leaving it there is this idea that if I miss one thing, then I’m lying. And so if I’m lying, aren’t all convicted felons lying? And so it’s an implicit bias sort of thing,” Washington explained. “If we’re already doing a background check, why require a person to take the additional time to do all of those things?”

Washington says in 2016, 45 job candidates with prior criminal convictions were interviewed, vetted and offered jobs — but they either forgot or left out past convictions when asked to list them, so the offers were withdrawn, no matter how minor the crime or how long ago the conviction.

But shouldn’t an applicant leaving a conviction off the list, accidentally or intentionally, present a red flag for employers?

“No,” Washington said, citing an example like “a minor in possession at age 18 and I’m 45 and I’ve had several jobs and it’s never been a problem.”

Statistics show 70 percent of people released from prison commit another crime within three years of being release. One reason behind that recidivism rate is how challenging it is to find a job.

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