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Add Us In – Los Angeles

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“Ban the Box”: The Intersection of Disability, Employment, and Criminal Background Disclosure


Add Us In (AUI) is a demonstration project designed to identify and develop strategies to increase the capacity of small businesses, including those in underserved and historically excluded communities, to employ adults and youth with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) funds eight consortia to explore the intersection of disability with race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, and gender; factors that can influence employment disparities. Consortia are led by regional grantees and are comprised of representatives from small businesses; the workforce development system; and diversity, disability and youth organizations.

Los Angeles

The Add Us In – Los Angeles Integrated Consortium seeks to develop effective models for minority-owned small businesses to recruit and hire people with disabilities. AUI – Los Angeles specifically focuses on difficult-to-place candidates with disabilities who have criminal records, mental health and substance abuse issues, and who have been homeless. The consortium’s approach focuses on providing one-on-one support to candidates in preparing for and sustaining employment by addressing all of their work barriers. Job-ready clients then receive one-on-one individualized support work with a job developer to seek and obtain competitive employment

The Intersection of Disability and Returning Citizens

Figure 1 Percentage of Inmates with Mental Health Problems

Individuals with mental health problems are three times more likely to be in a jail or prison than in a mental health facility and 44 percent of individuals with a severe mental illness will have spent some time in their lives either in jail, prison, or community corrections.

More than one-third and almost as many as two-thirds of inmates have mental health problems (defined as receiving a clinical diagnosis or treatment by a mental health professional.) Inmates in local jails had the highest prevalence of mental problems, with nearly two-thirds (64.2 percent) satisfying the criteria for a mental health problem currently or in the previous year.

There are about 33,000 prisoners with mental health needs in state prisons in California, close to 30 percent of the prison population and California houses a disproportionate share of the nation’s recently released prisoners.

As a program specifically for persons with disabilities, the Add Us In - Los Angeles consortium documents the nature of those disabilities. In 2013, 65.8 percent of LA AUI’s clients had a mental health disability. In addition, LA AUI’s clients with mental health disabilities often have co-occurring conditions such as homelessness, prior incarceration, lack of education, limited social skills, or family history of poverty. Of their clients:

  • 25.8% are noted to be recovering from substance abuse, with 10.6% documented as having current substance abuse problems.
  • 53.0% are noted to be homeless.
  • 50.0% are noted to have a criminal background; 22.7% are or were gang-involved.

Because of the significant number of clients who have both a criminal background and a disability, the Add Us In – Los Angeles consortium, lead by the CEO of the Integrated Recovery Network, has actively supported the “Ban the Box” campaign for Los Angeles.

Ban the Box

It is estimated that 70 million Americans-one in four adults-have a criminal record . The greatest challenge for returning citizens is the need for a job. Employment can provide a sense of structure and responsibility for returning citizens to aid in reintegration. In fact, employment is perhaps the single most important predictor of post-release success for returning citizens. Unfortunately, finding and keeping employment is difficult. Many employers are hesitant to hire someone with a criminal record

“Ban the Box” is a campaign with the purpose of, through policy and regulation, persuading employers to remove from their hiring applications the check box that asks if applicants have a criminal record - “Have you been convicted (of a felony)?” This would allow returning citizens to have their applications considered based on their qualifications and skills rather than being arbitrarily dismissed. This doesn’t prevent employers from inquiring about criminal records later, but it moves the inquiry further into the hiring process.

Over 60 local jurisdictions across the U.S. that have adopted “ban the box” in the past ten years and 18 cities and counties now extend the ban the box policy to private contractors, and more than 10 states have adopted “Ban the Box.”

Although the emphasis of “Ban the Box” campaigns is to offer greater opportunity for individuals with a criminal background to find a job who may be unnecessarily disqualified from the hiring process, an important side effect to such efforts may be increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities because of the significant intersection between disability and individuals who have been incarcerated.

California and AB 218

In 2010, Governor Schwarzenegger ordered two questions regarding conviction history removed from the State of California employment application. The State Personnel Board issued a new application, and background checks were no longer required for every position. That same year, City Councilwoman Jan Perry originally introduced the resolution at the City Council of the City of Los Angeles. A broad-based Employment Rights coalition worked to ensure passage of “Ban the Box” reforms throughout smaller cities and reached out to garner support from additional organizations and individuals.

On October 10, 2013, by Governor Edmond “Jerry” Brown signed AB 218, authored by Assembly member Roger Dickinson, AB218 removes question s about convictions from state agency, city, county, and special district job applications. It also requires that by July 1, 2014, the State of California, as well as every city, county and special district in the state, have a “ban the box” policy in place so that questions about conviction history do not appear on the government’s initial job applications. Any inquiries into conviction history must take place later in the hiring process. The new statute-Section 432.9 in the Labor Code-would ensure that job applicants are considered on their qualifications first. Advocates and organizations also urge similar policy for contractors and local private employers.

Add Us In – Los Angeles Results

Add Us In – Los Angeles reports that their whole-person process has been successful for the high-risk clients they serve. LA AUI process is to stabilize their clients. Some clients come off the street while others are recruited from jail before they are released. Each case management partner (LA Gay and Lesbian Center, Homeboy and IRN) provides clients the help they need right away. Once the challenges have been identified, case managers connect the clients to the services they need to develop stability. This has included housing, substance abuse services, and mental health services, as precursors to employment services

Recidivism is high among former felons. At Twin Towers Correctional Facility, Los Angeles County Jail, where men with mental health problems are incarcerated, 90 percent of the inmates have been there before. For clients who are part of the Add Us In – Los Angeles consortium process, the recidivism rate is about 20 percent. These clients also have seen their emergency room visits reduced by 61 percent because they have better access to medical care and are receiving care for substance abuse issues.

Overall, 67.7 percent of project clients who received services had at least one work-related outcome documented through the end of March 2013. In addition, 30.6 percent of program clients have had at least one positive educational outcome, including staying in school (17.7%), earning a certificate of completion for high school (1.6%), entering 2 year vocational training programs (6.5%), completing 2 year vocational training programs (3.2%), entering 2 year postsecondary degree certificate programs (11.3%), and entering 4 year postsecondary degree programs (4.8%).

To ensure greater opportunity for many of these clients Add Us In – Los Angeles has been active in community and political organizing to help ensure passage of the Ban the Box legislation in California and Los Angeles County. The Executive Director of the Integrated Recovery Network met with California Assembly member Mike Gatto, and testified at Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors hearings. She has written Letters to The Editor Los Angeles Times, and worked with the following coalitions: Los Angeles Regional Re-Entry Partnership Community and Faith-Based Reentry Coalitions Network, Los Angeles Reintegration Campaign, Pat Brown Institute.

Success Story

K.L. is a Hispanic female, now 38 year old, who grew up with dysfunctional parents. At an early age, she became involved with gangs and began experimenting with drugs. She became the leader of a gang in Los Angeles. Then she went to prison. After several years in prison, she was released and decided to turn her life around.

She started making better life choices. She obtained her food handling certification and forklift certification. Although she was frequently interviewing for employment, she felt that the stigma of a criminal background always followed her. Despite many interviews no one was willing to hire her. She struggled to maintain her confidence. With California and Los Angeles’ efforts and increased visibility around “Ban the Box” she has been hopeful about the future. She was recently given an opportunity at a high-end market and is now working in the food department as a cook.


Given the overrepresentation of people with disabilities within the population of returning citizens, entities interested in promoting disability employment may wish to consider the use of “ban the box” strategies as a tool to improve employment opportunities.

Organizations, agencies, and entities working with returning citizen populations may wish to consider that their constituency or program participants would likely include individuals with disabilities and as such, they should be ready to provide necessary accommodations and supports to ensure successful transition to employment and independence.


Add Us In – Los Angeles Partners

  • Integrated Recovery Network
  • The Measurement Group
  • L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center
  • Homeboy Industries
  • Los Angeles Metropolitan Hispanic Chambers of Commerce

For more information, please contact Marsha Temple, J.D., Executive Director, Integrated Recovery Network, Los Angeles, CA, Add Us In – Los Angeles, CA –

This brief does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.