Car-hailing service Uber Technologies is changing its screening requirements to allow some people with nonviolent criminal convictions to drive for the company in Connecticut.
Uber’s change in policy, which goes into effect early next year, will allow people with convictions for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses such as passing a bad check, resisting arrest, petty theft, prostitution, harassment and causing minor property damage to drive for the company.
Previously, applicants with such records were automatically rejected if the offense occurred within the past seven years. Uber said it will continue to reject applicants who have felony convictions within the past seven years, as well as applicants with convictions for misdemeanor offenses that involve violence, sex crimes and serious motor vehicle violations.
Uber made a similar policy change in California earlier this year. In addition to Connecticut, the change will affect Rhode Island.
“One of the things we kept hearing over and over were some of the offenses we put on the list as disqualifying were over-broad,” said Joe Sullivan, Uber’s chief security officer. A petty theft conviction from six years ago should not be held against someone, he said.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has made it a priority for the company to provide opportunities to people with limited options, people who have had doors closed on them, Sullivan said.
Dianne Jones, who was named Hartford’s director of re-entry services by Mayor Luke Bronin in December, said Uber’s move is good for people who are trying to rebuild their lives, and for Uber.
People who have criminal records struggle, she said. “They’re trying to do well, to get their lives on track,” Jones said. A criminal record can be a barrier to employment, housing and even getting into school.
Jones said she’s working with at least two men who might benefit from Uber’s new policy. One man already runs a ride business on his own to supplement the income from his day job, she said. Being able to drive for Uber could be a step forward for him, she said.
“I think it will help a lot, especially if Uber wants to expand,” Jones said. “More and more college students are using Uber. It’s really a vital part of transportation here in Hartford.”
David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said Connecticut is a leader in the movement to help former prisoners get their lives back on track. A law goes into effect Jan. 1 that bans employers from asking prospective employees about prior arrests, criminal charges or convictions on their initial employment application. There are exceptions to the law for when employers are required by state or federal law to inquire, or for positions that require bonding.
Uber’s move, McGuire said, appears to strike a balance between maintaining public safety and giving people a chance at obtaining employment.
“It’s good for everybody and it’s good for public safety too,” McGuire said. “When people with a criminal record are able to get employment, it stabilizes their lives … and they’re less likely to offend again.”
That’s one of Uber’s motivations, Sullivan said. “One of the primary reasons people commit new crimes is because they have no economic opportunity,” he said. Giving people convicted of minor crimes a chance could help cut recidivism, he said.
If an applicant’s criminal felony record is older than seven years, he or she will not be excluded. Uber also only uses convictions, not arrests, when making decisions, Sullivan said.
Uber checks applicants through a contractor called Checkr that relies on public databases to check an applicant’s background. Checkr also sends representatives to courthouses to examine records if necessary, Sullivan said.
Uber has been criticized for not using applicants’ fingerprints to check criminal records, but Sullivan said using fingerprints has limitations. In Connecticut, to obtain a taxi license an applicant must be fingerprinted and pass a criminal background check, according to state Department of Motor Vehicles regulations.
District attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco sued Uber, charging that its criminal background check process was inadequate because it failed to use fingerprints. And the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, a trade group that represents Uber’s competitors, maintains a website called whosdrivingyou.org that lists news stories about crimes and crashes involving Uber drivers. Uber and the district attorneys ultimately settled the lawsuit.
Sullivan said Uber is confident its background check process is adequate and said its use of technology helps keep drivers and riders safe. Uber tracks feedback left by riders and drivers, has trip-tracking as part of the Uber app and allows drivers to be easily identified if there is a problem.
For Uber applicants who are still disqualified by the revised rules, the company said it refers them to re-entry programs that provide job training and placement assistance.
Reposted From: http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-uber-connecticut-criminal-records-1118-20161118-story.html