Marina Fang ,The Huffington Post
President Barack Obama has announced a series of measures designed to reduce obstacles facing former prisoners reintegrating into society, including an executive action directing federal employers to delay asking questions about a job applicant’s criminal history until later in the application process.
Many states, cities and private employers have already taken steps to “ban the box,” which refers to the checkbox on employment applications asking if the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime.
However, some federal employers and contractors still ask the question. Obama’s executive action will apply to federal employers, but not to contractors.
Civil rights activists have urged Obama to propose the measure, noting that such questions can limit the ability for people with a criminal record to gain employment and get their lives back on track after prison.
Advocates argue that those formerly in prison should be allowed to prove their qualifications for a job instead of being eliminated early in the process due to their criminal background.
“Today’s announcement is a major victory for returning citizens and our nation. It’s also just a first step toward removing unnecessary barriers that prevent people who’ve served their time from finding work and rebuilding their lives,” said Pastor Michael McBride of The Way Church in Berkeley and PICO’s LIVE FREE campaign.
“We continue to believe that no one should be defined by the worst thing they’ve done in their life,” said McBride.
“I hope that (President Obama) will take the next step and issue an Executive Order as it relates to contractors doing business with our federal government,” said Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of All of Us or None.
Nunn and other formerly incarcerated men and women made several trips to Washington DC to meet with Congressional and White House officials. Meetings last week with senior aides to President Obama were part of a 100,000 petition delivery asking the President to issue a Fair Hiring “Ban the Box” Executive Order.
The issue has also come up on the campaign trail, with all three Democratic presidential candidates pledging support for a “ban the box” policy.
Obama will also announce other initiatives designed to improve rehabilitation and re-entry for former inmates, including education and housing grants, as well as partnerships between local municipalities and private companies.
He is proposing more funding for legal aid programs and policies to reduce the legal hurdles for former prisoners applying for public housing, a process that also uses an applicant’s criminal history as a factor in determining eligibility.
As Obama approaches the end of his presidency, he has pledged to do more to address problems like mass incarceration, mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders and police brutality.
“We join President Obama and millions of people of faith, calling on the Congress to pass redemptive legislation that secures fair hiring for all by banning the box, without exception on federal applications and contracts, so our loved ones can find their path home bursting with opportunities and second chances,” said Pastor McBride.