09.10.15

Booker, Baldwin, Members of Congress Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Give Formerly Incarcerated a Fair Chance at Federal Employment

Bill seeks to reduce recidivism by prohibiting federal contractors & federal agencies from asking job applicants about their criminal history until final stage of hiring process

WASHINGTON, D.C.U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Tammy Baldwin today introduced the Fair Chance Act, bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would give formerly incarcerated people a fairer chance at securing employment by prohibiting federal contractors and federal agencies from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant until an applicant receives a conditional offer of employment. Senators Booker and Baldwin were joined by U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Joni Ernst (R-IA), along with Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), John Conyers (D-MI), and Bobby Scott (D-VA).

Nationwide, states and cities have been implementing “Ban the Box” polices to help people with records overcome the barrier to employment of having to “check the box” about a past felony conviction on a job application. Eighteen states and over 100 cities and counties have taken action, giving formerly incarcerated people a fairer chance to secure employment. Additionally, companies such as Walmart, Koch Industries, Target, Home Depot, and Bed, Bath & Beyond have embraced these “Ban the Box” policies to more fairly assess job applicants.

“Empowering people with records to become productive members of society instead of repeat offenders is not only fiscally sound, it’s the morally responsible thing to do,” said Sen. Booker. “There are millions of Americans with records who are quickly passed over by employers without considering their skills or qualifications because of their history. Sadly, this approach only increases the likelihood of recidivism at great cost to taxpayers and communities in New Jersey and across the country. The Fair Chance Act seeks to dismantle this unfair barrier in federal hiring to ensure these Americans are given a second chance and a fairer shot at making a better life for themselves.”

“Those who have made mistakes and paid their debt to society deserve a chance to move forward and live a productive life,” said Sen. Baldwin. “Yet, far too often, the more than 70 million Americans who have criminal histories face unreasonable employment barriers that stand in the way of contributing to our workforce. This bipartisan effort will help ensure that every American has a fair chance to secure a steady job, support their family and strengthen our communities.”

“This commonsense legislation will give those leaving the criminal justice system a fair chance to turn their lives around, and to contribute to our economy in a meaningful way,” said Rep. Cummings. “It is high time for us to build upon state and local policies like those in Maryland and Baltimore. This bill will help us reduce recidivism, break the cycles of crime we see all too often, and make our communities safer in the process.”

Currently, federal law does not prevent federal employers from asking a formerly incarcerated person about their past crimes at any stage of a job interview. The Fair Chance Act would bring the “Ban the Box” initiative to the federal hiring process and would prohibit federal employers and federal contractors from inquiring about criminal history information of a candidate until he or she is given a conditional offer of employment.

Exceptions are made for positions related to law enforcement and national security duties, positions that require access to classified information, or when disclosure before the conditional offer stage is required by law.

 The Fair Chance Act would:

  • Ban the federal government—including the executive, legislative, and judicial branches—from requesting criminal history information from applicants until they reach the conditional offer stage;
  • Prohibit federal contractors from requesting criminal history information from candidates for positions within the scope of federal contracts until the conditional offer stage;
  • Include important exceptions for positions related to law enforcement and national security duties, positions requiring access to classified information, and positions for which access to criminal history information before the conditional offer stage is required by law; and
  • Require the Department of Labor, U.S. Census Bureau, and Bureau of Justice Statistics to issue a report on the employment statistics of formerly incarcerated individuals.

Over 70 million Americans who have criminal histories are faced with the daunting task of securing employment. They face improbable odds in obtaining a job as a result of an arrest or criminal conviction. Studies show that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent for men in general.  African-American men with criminal records have been 60 percent less likely to receive a callback or job offer than those without records. For individuals trying to turn the page on a difficult chapter in their lives, a criminal conviction poses a substantial barrier to employment.

In May, Senator Baldwin joined Senators Booker and Brown in leading a bipartisan group of 25 of their Senate colleagues in urging President Obama to expand job opportunities and reduce recidivism by taking executive action and requiring federal contractors and federal agencies to “ban the box” on job applications. The letter can be viewed here.  

The Fair Chance Act is supported by the Center for Urban Families, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Employment Law Project, and the National Black Prosecutors Association.