President Obama announced on a trip to Newark today that he’d be using his executive powers to make it easier for the federal government to hire people with criminal records.
Obama called it action to “ban the box for the most competitive jobs at federal agencies.”
“Now, the federal government is a big employer, as you know, and like a lot of big employers, on many job applications there’s a box that asks if you have a criminal record. If you answer yes, then a lot of times you’re not getting a call back,” he said.
“We’re going to do our part in changing this. The federal government, I believe, should not use criminal history to screen out applicants before we even look at their qualifications. We can’t dismiss people out of hand simply because of a mistake that they made in the past.”
Obama said Congress “should pass legislation that builds on today’s announcement” — citing a bill from Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the Fair Chance Act.
That legislation would move criminal history inquiries to the end of the federal hiring process, the conditional offer stage. It would make federal contractors do the same.
The bill includes exceptions for security clearance positions and law enforcement. The Department of Labor, Census Bureau, and Bureau of Justice Statistics would be required to compile a report on employment for formerly incarcerated individuals.
“Keep in mind some really good, really successful companies are already doing this. Walmart, Target, Koch Industries, Home Depot — they’ve already taken action to ban the box on their own. And 19 states have done the same,” Obama said.
“So my hope is, is that with the federal government also taking action, us getting legislation passed — this becomes a basic principle across our society. It is relevant to find out whether somebody has a criminal record. We’re not suggesting ignore it. What we are suggesting is, when it comes to the application, give folks a chance to get through the door. Give them a chance to get in there so that they can make their case.”
The president also encouraged Congress to pass criminal justice reform bills in the House and Senate, including reducing mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders.
“It will not completely change the system overnight, but it will lock in some basic principles that we understand are going to make us a fairer and safer society over the long term. And I am very proud of the work that those legislators are doing,” Obama said. “I’m especially proud because it’s not typical that Democrats and Republicans get together on useful legislation — let’s face it. But this is an area where we’ve seen some really strong bipartisan work, and I’m very encouraged by that.”