Washington, DC - An estimated 70 million or more Americans have some kind of criminal record. Each year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from Federal and State prisons, and millions more are released each year from local jails. Promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals who have paid their debt to society makes communities safer by reducing recidivism and victimization; assists those who return from prison, jail, or juvenile justice facilities to become productive citizens; and saves taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.
Providing incarcerated individuals with job and life skills, education programming, and mental health and addiction treatment increases the likelihood that they will be successful when released. Policies that limit opportunities for people with criminal records create barriers to employment, education, housing, health care, and civic participation. All of these are critical to reducing recidivism and strengthening communities.
As part of National Reentry Week, the Administration has taken a series of steps to reform the federal approach to reentry by addressing barriers to reentry, supporting state and local efforts to do the same, and engaging the private sector to provide individuals who have earned a second chance the opportunity to participate in the American economy.
Today, the President will sign a Presidential Memorandum establishing the Federal Interagency Reentry Council to lead the Government’s work on the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals returning to their communities from prisons and jails. The Attorney General has successfully led a Cabinet-level working group for the last five years, and this Memorandum will build on that success and ensure that the Federal Government will continue this important work.
The Administration is taking important steps to reduce barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals:
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is publishing a proposed rule that would prohibit federal agencies from asking questions about criminal and credit history to applicants for tens of thousands of jobs in the competitive service, as well as the career senior executive service, until a conditional offer of employment has been made. People with criminal records are already eligible to compete for the vast majority of federal jobs; the proposed rule builds on current practice at many agencies by ensuring that hiring managers are making selection decisions based solely on applicants' qualifications.
Early inquiries into an applicant's criminal history may discourage motivated, well-qualified individuals who have served their time from applying for a federal job. Early inquiries could also lead to the disqualification of otherwise eligible candidates, regardless of whether an arrest actually resulted in charges or a conviction, and regardless of whether consideration of an applicant's criminal history is justified by business necessity. These barriers to employment unnecessarily narrow the pool of eligible and qualified candidates for federal employment, while also limiting opportunities for those with criminal histories to obtain the means to support themselves and their families.
The rule would also allow agencies to request exceptions where there are legitimate job-related reasons why they might need to obtain a candidate's background information sooner in the hiring process. Unless an exception is granted, only after a conditional job offer is made will candidates be asked questions about criminal and credit history that may bear on their suitability for federal employment.
- The Presidential Memorandum directs all agencies and departments to review their procedures for conducting a suitability determination for a job applicant with a criminal record. These suitability determinations evaluate each individual’s character and conduct and consider such factors as the relevance of any past criminal conduct to the job; the nature, seriousness, recency, and circumstances of any criminal conduct; the age of the individual at the time of the conduct; contributing societal conditions; and whether any efforts have been made toward rehabilitation.
- The Presidential Memorandum directs all agencies with discretion to grant or deny occupational licenses to revise their procedures, consistent with the need to protect public safety, to ensure that a criminal record is not an automatic disqualifier and that the determination to grant or deny a licenses is made after consideration of all relevant facts and circumstances.
Engaging the Private Sector and Honoring Champions of Change
The President continues to call on members of the private sector to improve their communities by creating a pathway to a job for a formerly incarcerated individual. On April 11th, the White House hosted 19 companies to launch the Fair Chance Business Pledge, including American Airlines, Busboys and Poets, The Coca-Cola Company, Facebook, Georgia Pacific, Google, Greyston Bakery, The Hershey Company, The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, Koch Industries, Libra Group, PepsiCo, Prudential, Starbucks, Uber, Under Amour/Plank Industries, Unilever and Xerox.
In the two weeks since these initial companies took the pledge, an additional 93 companies and organizations have joined the pledge, including Microsoft, Best Buy, Lyft, Kellogg Company, Staples, TrueBlue, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Catholic Charities USA, NAACP, Manufacturing Alliance of Philadelphia, American Civil Liberties Union, the American Sustainable Business Council and dozens of small and medium-sized companies from across the country.
Together, these 112 companies and organizations employ well over 1.5 million people. By joining the pledge, they are committing to take action to reduce barriers to a second chance, such as “banning the box,” ensuring information regarding a criminal record is considered in the proper context, and engaging in hiring practices that do not unnecessarily place jobs out of reach for those with criminal records. Companies and organizations interested in joining the pledge can continue to do so by visiting www.whitehouse.gov/fairchancepledge.
This past Wednesday, the White House honored 10 individuals as “White House Champions of Change for Expanding Fair Chance Opportunities.” These individuals were recognized for their leadership and tireless work to remove barriers to a second chance for those with a criminal records.
Additional Federal Agency Actions To Reduce Barriers During National Reentry Week
As part of National Reentry Week, the Federal Interagency Reentry Council agencies have announced additional steps to improve the rehabilitation and reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals:
- The Council of Economic Advisors released a report, “Economic Perspectives on Incarceration and the Criminal Justice System,” and hosted an event with the Brennan Center for Justice and the American Enterprise Institute focused on the economic impact of the criminal justice system and identified cost-effective ways to reduce crime and incarceration rates.
- The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its “Roadmap to Reentry,” outlining five evidence-based principles of reform to be implemented by the Bureau of Prisons to ensure DOJ’s commitment to reentry is incorporated throughout incarceration – from intake to release.
- Attorney General Lynch sent a letter to governors asking them to allow individuals reentering the community to exchange their corrections identification card for a state identification cards or to accept a corrections identification card as a form of identification. The lack of state-issued identification is another common barrier in getting a job, housing, or opening a bank account.
- The U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and Bureau of Prisons are hosting hundreds of events in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, including job fairs and resource fairs, mock interview sessions, resume workshops, family engagement events.
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released guidance on the application of Fair Housing Act standards to the use of criminal records by providers of housing and guidance for public housing authorities on excluding the use of arrest records in housing decisions.
- HUD and DOJ announced recipients of $1.75 million in grants for Public Housing Authorities and nonprofit legal service organizations to assist young people residing in public housing or who would be residing in public housing but for their criminal record.
- The Department of Health and Human Services released guidance clarifying that individuals in state or local halfway houses and those on probation or parole are not excluded from Medicaid and describing how states can better facilitate access to Medicaid services for individuals reentering the community.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is participating in 120 events at Bureau of Prison facilities and VA medical centers to serve justice-involved Veterans. VA’s Veterans Justice Outreach initiative is active in over 350 Veterans Treatment Courts and other Veteran-focused court programs and 1,284 local jails.