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Ernst Joins Booker, Cummings, Johnson, Issa, Members of Congress to Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Give Formerly Incarcerated a Fair Chance at Federal Employment

Booker, Cummings, Johnson, Issa lead Senate and House in announcing comprehensive reform to improve hiring prospects for the formerly incarcerated

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

Walmart, Koch Industries, Target, Starbucks, Home Depot, and Bed, Bath & Beyond have already embraced “Ban the Box” policies

Washington, DC –  Today, Members of Congress led by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) in the Senate and Reps. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) and Darrell Issa (R-CA), in the House of Representatives, 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. Sen. Booker and Rep. Cummings were joined by U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Joni Ernst (R-IA), along with Reps. 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." 

“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.” 

“Over the last several months, I have had the opportunity to meet with former incarcerated offenders back in Wisconsin,” said Sen. Johnson. “What has struck me most is how challenging we make it for those who truly want to turn their lives around. I want to help make their transition easier. If someone getting out of prison wants to work, wants to be a productive member of society, we should do everything we can to facilitate that. The dignity of work is probably the best way we can keep people from turning back to a life of crime. I’m pleased to work with Senator Booker and Representative Cummings to provide federal leadership on giving people a second chance.”

“About nine percent of Americans – roughly 20 million people -- have a felony conviction in the United States,” said Rep. Issa. “Unfortunately, current practice ensures that the 18-year-old who makes a mistake will not only pay for his crime through the justice system, but will continue to be punished for the rest of his life, as he or she is disqualified out-of-hand from consideration for federal employment opportunities, even when qualified for the position. The message we inadvertently end up sending is that those who commit a crime will never be given a second chance.” 

“Fair hiring practices help ensure that people who have served their time can reenter the workforce without continuing to be punished for their past mistakes,” said Sen. Brown.  “All Americans deserve the chance to earn a living and make a positive contribution to their communities. These reforms would ensure that they have that chance and help to restore hope and opportunity to those who have served their time and paid their dues to society.”

“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.”

“We are a nation of opportunity and the Fair Chance Act provides a second chance for Americans with a record who have served their time to pursue employment with the federal government or contractors based on personal merit and qualifications,” said Sen. Ernst. “This bipartisan legislation works to prevent recidivism and encourages reintegration within our communities across the country while also maintaining safeguards for employers and proactively working to protect taxpayer dollars.” 

“One of the most difficult parts of coming into the criminal justice system is the journey of coming out of it,” said Rep. Jackson Lee. “For an individual who has paid their debt, the process of re-entering society is paved with tremendous, and often unsurmountable, obstacles. Despite serving time behind bars, formerly incarcerated individuals and those with criminal records continue to face a lengthy and often lifetime sentence upon returning to their communities.  In a nation where one third of our adult population has a criminal record, we must acknowledge and confront the damaging and crippling effects of mass incarceration.  This legislation will not prevent the inquiry all together—employers can ask later in the hiring process—but it will allow candidates to get a foot in the door.”

“With the largest prison population in the world, we must find ways to restore the lives of individuals, their families, and their communities. If someone has served their sentence and attempts a new start in life, they should be given a fair chance to make a positive contribution to their community. The federal government should lead by example. This legislation removes unfair federal hiring barriers for previously incarcerated individuals to help put a stop to the cycle of recidivism,” said Rep. Blumenauer.

“I have dedicated much of my work in public service to reentry issues, and it’s a subject that hits especially close to home having watched members of my family return from incarceration,” said Rep. Watson Coleman. “We can’t expect individuals who have served their time and paid their debts to society to successfully transition back into their communities if their job applications are thrown out before they get the chance to prove their skills. The increased public attention of the past few months has forced us to begin the important work of reforming our criminal justice system ? but that work won’t be complete without changing the way we look at formerly incarcerated individuals once they return to society. This legislation is a vital step, and I’m proud to join my colleagues in supporting it.”

“The most effective way to keep people out of jail is to provide them with a job,” said Rep. Richmond. “Ex-offenders must have the opportunity to make a living and provide for their families legally or they will revert to the same destructive behaviors that led them to prison in the first place. The Fair Chance Act removes the unnecessary barriers for otherwise qualified individuals to find employment and sets the right example for employers throughout the country.”

“Banning the box is the right thing to do for those fighting for a fair opportunity to show their qualifications.  By allowing rehabilitated individuals to provide for themselves and their families, we are helping the national economy, reducing the strain on our justice system, and ensuring that no person’s talents and contributions go to waste,” said Rep Conyers.

“Excessive punishment, bias in the criminal justice system, and poor rehabilitative services leaves our society with huge costs.

The fact is, about 1 in 100 adults in this country is in prison – more than any country on this planet,” said Rep. Scott. “A criminal record should not be a blanket denial of an opportunity, but should be considered with regard to the nature of the job, and only at the point where the applicant reaches the conditional offer stage.This bill is a step in the right direction to further policies across the nation, including in my home State of Virginia, to help formerly incarcerated people gain employment and re-enter society.” 

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, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), led 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.  Also in May, Reps. Cummings, Jackson Lee, Blumenauer, Watson Coleman, Richmond, Conyers, and Scott signed a similar letter to the President that included signatures from over 70 House Members.  That 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.

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