REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK | Background checks bar parks volunteers


Minneapolis parks have recently tightened enforcement of rules about background checks for volunteers. But does the “systemic bias of the criminal justice system” mean that many African American males will be barred from serving as volunteers?

For full story, go to Do backgrond checks unfairly weed out some volunteers?

The Minneapolis Park Board policy calls for background checks for workers and volunteers. The policy is not new, writes a community resident in the Powderhorn Park Forum, but enforcement has become more strict—and that has meant the loss of some staff and volunteers who have been at the park for years.

Pro strict enforcement: Criminal background checks can screen out people who could be dangerous to the children of the community.

Anti strict enforcement: Criminal background checks disproportionately screen out people of color, “excluding people who have struggled, had bad experiences or overcome challenges … the very people most able to connect with struggling youth.”

“No one doubts the need for a careful and thorough background check for all park staff and volunteers. Obviously, there are categories of offences for which no exceptions should ever be considered. But, in light of the systemic racial bias in our criminal justice system, how we enforce a policy based solely on data from that system needs careful evaluation.”

The Park Board Commissioners will be holding their monthly meeting at Powderhorn Park on Wednesday, July 1, 2009 from 5:00-8:00 p.m. with opportunities for public input at 5:00 p.m.

What do you think? Send us your comments, or contact Anna Pratt at