Advancing a Federal Fair Chance Hiring Agenda: Local & State Reforms Pave the Way for Presidential Action

Almost one in three adults in the United States has a criminal record that will show up on a routine criminal background check. This creates a serious barrier to employment for millions of workers, especially in communities of color hardest hit by decades of over-criminalization.

Reflecting the growing political consensus behind “smart on crime” reforms, elected officials from across the ideological spectrum have embraced “fair chance” hiring policies. These reforms restore hope and opportunity to qualified job-seekers with a criminal record who struggle against significant odds to find work and to give back to their communities. More than 100 jurisdictions have adopted “ban the box” and other fair chance hiring reforms, often in tandem with criminal justice reform priorities.  Several major corporations have embraced fair chance hiring as well, including three of the nation’s top five retailers: Walmart, Target, and Home Depot.

The federal government should build on this momentous wave of support for public- and private-sector hiring reforms. Now is the time for President Obama to act boldly to open up employment opportunities for the large numbers of Americans who have been unfairly locked out of the job market because of a criminal record. As the President’s “My Brother’s Keeper” Task Force recently concluded:

Our youth and communities suffer when hiring practices unnecessarily disqualify candidates based on past mistakes. We should implement reforms to promote successful reentry, including encouraging hiring practices, such as “Ban the Box,” which give applicants a fair chance and allows employers the opportunity to judge individual job candidates on their merits as they reenter the workforce.

This paper makes the case for a federal fair-chance-hiring administrative initiative—including an Executive Order and Presidential Memorandum—that ensures that both federal agencies and federal contractors are leading the way to create job opportunities for qualified people with criminal records. In addition, as the 114th Congress convenes, this paper identifies several bipartisan legislative priorities, including the REDEEM Act (S. 2567), co-sponsored by Senators Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY), that would significantly advance employment opportunities for people with criminal records.

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About the Authors

Maurice Emsellem

Fair Chance Program Director, National Employment Law Project

Michelle Natividad Rodriguez