Zoe Wigfall knows the difficulty of applying for jobs after a felony conviction. She served time for weapon and drug charges more than a decade ago and found it difficult to find a job when she got out.
“People change. Everybody deserves a second chance,” said Wigfall, 52, who now works as a program assistant for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners and lives in East Palo Alto. “I got a break, and the company I work for is wonderful.”
This week, she was among the advocates urging San Mateo County supervisors to tweak the county’s hiring process by deleting a question on the main job application about prior criminal convictions.
Under the change, which was approved 5-0 by the board, applicants will fill out a separate criminal-history form that will be available only to human resources and department heads, so not everyone involved in testing will necessarily see that information, Human Resources Director Donna Vallaincourt said.
Officials hope getting rid of the box will elicit applications from rehabilitated ex-offenders who thought they wouldn’t “get a fair shake” with the question on the first page, Vallaincourt said.
“I think it’s a tremendous step in the right direction for San Mateo County,” said Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson, who pushed for the change.
The move was backed by All of Us or None, a San Francisco-based organization that’s been running a national “ban the box” campaign to rid job applications of the criminal-history question.
Dorsey Nunn, a co-founder of the group, said he appreciates the move by supervisors, but questions how the county will use the separate criminal-history form and whether it should be required for all applicants.
“If you’re not working with a vulnerable population, you really don’t need to know that information,” said Nunn, who lives in Menlo Park.
San Francisco moved the criminal-conviction question off the main application and to a second form in 2006, said human resources spokeswoman Jennifer Johnston. The information typically isn’t required until near the end of the process, unless there are legal restrictions on the open position, she said.
Vallaincourt said San Mateo County officials felt it was important to know earlier in the process because some people are legally not eligible by law for certain jobs. For example, a person with an embezzlement conviction would not be able to apply for a job in finance.
“We really think it’s important also not to put individuals through an entire testing and application process if their conviction is going to preclude us, based on the law” from hiring them, Vallaincourt said.
5,500 People employed by San Mateo County
13,000 Average number of job applications county receives annually
200 Approximate number of people the county hired last year
27 Available county jobs posted this week
Source: San Mateo County Human Resources Department