FILE - North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper

(The Center Square) – North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Tuesday that will remove questions about criminal history from state employment applications.

Cooper said the changes, dubbed fair chance policies, will remove employment barriers for more than 1.7 million North Carolinians.

"There's a wealth of talent out there, a wealth of people who've made a mistake who now are about to come back into society who could be good employees for companies," Cooper said during a North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) re-entry forum before signing the order. "This is the right thing to do. It's the moral thing to do."

The governor encouraged businesses in the state to do the same.

Cooper's order makes North Carolina the 36th state to remove questions referring to criminal history on employment applications, widely known as "banning the box."

Ten local governments in North Carolina already have similar policies, as well as some businesses.

Fast food restaurant chain Bojangles, which is headquartered in Charlotte, formed an employment partnership with NCDPS and the nonprofit organization Center for Community Transitions after banning the box and accepting applications from people with criminal records.

After being released on parole or probation, applicants receive professional and goal-oriented training before Bojangles interviews them.

Matt Joyce, a consultant who oversees the Bojangles program, said the company's hiring disqualification rate has dropped from 20 percent to 8 percent at corporate-owned locations nationwide.

Joyce said since making the change, the company's retention has improved by 75 percent. Within nine months of launching the local program, 75 formerly incarcerated people were hired, and 13 have been able to secure management positions.

"We've also made significant updates to the hiring matrix to just make sure that we're being as thoughtful as possible about the convictions that folks have, who's eligible and qualified and who's not, and really trying to open up opportunities to as many folks as possible," Joyce said.

North Carolina implemented a re-entry plan in 2018 to help people who complete their sentences transition back into the community. NCDPS connects former inmates with public and private sector resources before they are released.

Cooper's order also prohibits the state from inquiring about an applicant's criminal history during the preliminary stages of the hiring process. It gives those with criminal records an opportunity to explain what led to a conviction and blocks sealed records and nonconvictions from being considered in the process. The order does not apply to positions such as those in public safety where a conviction is an instant disqualification.

"So many people who come out of the justice system really start with so many things against them: housing, transportation, money that they owe to other people and not really having a good job to go to," Cooper said. "I think having a good job is one of the most important things someone can do to help turn their lives around."

The North Carolina Department of Administration will examine how businesses contracted by the state can implement the policies, which take effect Nov. 1.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for four years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.