Fair Chance to Serve ordinance passes in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Everyone deserves a second chance, and local leaders are helping ex-offenders live out that popular motto through the ‘Fair Chance to Serve’ ordinance. ‘

Fair Chance to Serve’ is an initiative that gives those with a criminal record an opportunity to volunteer on local boards and commissions.

The ordinance got the approval of the Shelby County Commission this week. 

“We’re in the business of making the penal system go out of business,” said County Commissioner and ordinance sponsor Van Turner. “We’re not trying to create more jail cells for our young men and women, we’re trying to make it to where there are fewer and fewer cells.”

Thanks to the newly adopted ordinance, those with a criminal history do not have to disclose those records when applying to serve on one of the county boards or commissions.

The effort is part of Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris’ efforts toward criminal justice reform.

“Not only do we want to make sure that the next offender will not be unfairly discriminated against because they made a mistake in the past, we also want to allow those ex-offenders to serve on county government on different boards,” said Turner.

Co-sponsor of the ordinance, Republican Commissioner Mick Wright, said, “We shouldn’t make it difficult for ex-offenders to reintegrate in society. Candidates who have been through the justice system have paid their debt to society and have been thinking about ways to turn their lives around. They will bring different perspectives and expertise to serve our communities.”

“Everybody deserves a second chance,” said Tanja Williams, a local resident who said redemption is well-deserved in response to mistakes and imperfections. “Even the Apostle Paul was a Saint killer and ended up being a Disciple.”

The ordinance is an extension of the Ban the Box Ordinance, which removed questions about arrests and conviction histories on applications for Shelby County government jobs.

Those interested in volunteering can serve from a list of several boards and committees, including the Adult Oriented Establishment Board, the Agricenter Commission, and the Airport Authority.