RIGHTS BLOG: Updates from the Department of Human Rights

Ramsey County Workhouse Program Gives Inmates the Skills for a Second Chance

Posted on 12/20/13

The first graduating class in a new Century College program combining continuing education with on-the-job training in the culinary arts will give a second chance to a remarkable group of nine Ramsey County workhouse inmates.

Dressed in chef’s coats and hats instead of blue jumpsuits, program participants develop marketable skills. Some hope to find jobs as cooks, or to pursue additional education. One dreams of some day opening his own restaurant.

These incarcerated men with ambitious goals have the opportunity to begin a career even though some have never held a steady job before. Whatever their work histories, all will face the added burden of having a criminal conviction in their past.

Beginning next year, the door to employment should be open a little wider for people with criminal backgrounds, as a result of legislation signed by Gov. Dayton. The new Ban the Box law, which takes effect in January 2014, is designed to provide those with a criminal background with a better chance to at least make their case to a prospective employer – to be judged on their skills, not just their past mistakes.

The new law does not prevent an employer from considering an applicant’s criminal history. It simply changes the timing. It requires an employer to wait until a job applicant has been selected for an interview, or a conditional offer of employment is extended, before conducting a criminal background record check or asking the applicant about a criminal record. The requirement is currently in place for public employers. The new law extends it to private businesses.

The culinary arts program at the Ramsey County workhouse aims to help participants with job skills including discussing their criminal backgrounds with prospective employers. They are urged to “own up to it, account for it” and say, “This is who I am now,” in the words of one of the program’s instructors.

Their pride at what they’ve accomplished is evident in their faces. They’ve developed new skills, and appear ready to leave the workhouse for the workplace. Finding success in the job market will depend on the willingness of employers to look beyond the mistakes in their past, and have a conversation about where they are now – this is the kind of conversation that should become more common as a result of the new Ban the Box law.


Find Employer Guidance and FAQ on the new “Ban the Box” law on our web site in the Employers section.