On the Senate Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill

Washington, DC—Following is a statement from Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, in response to the introduction in the Senate of bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation—the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015—led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley and Assistant Democratic Leader Richard Durbin:

“The Senate has heard the call from communities around the country to reverse decades of over-incarceration, and hammered out bipartisan legislation that promises meaningful criminal justice reform.  In addition to proposing long-overdue sentencing reforms, the bill recognizes that millions of Americans who have paid their debt to society need to be able to find gainful employment in order to lead productive lives as full members of society.

“For the one in three adults in the U.S. who have a record and must navigate challenging criminal background checks for employment, the bill includes an important fix:  it goes a long way to correct errors in FBI background checks, which are run on 17 million workers annually.  As we documented in our 2013 report, Wanted: Accurate FBI Background Checks for Employment, about half of the FBI rap sheets fail to include updated information—often crucial information such as whether a charge was dismissed or a record expunged—omissions that prejudice the employment prospects of an estimated 600,000 workers every year.

“People of color are especially disadvantaged by the faulty FBI records, because they are consistently arrested at higher rates that whites, and large numbers of their arrests never lead to a conviction.

“We especially applaud Senator Charles Grassley, Senator Patrick Leahy, and Senator Corey Booker for their strong bipartisan leadership on this critical employment issue.  Senators Grassley and Leahy recently wrote to FBI Director James Comey, requesting detailed information on FBI background checks and stating that ‘this issue takes on special significance given the growing numbers of federal and state laws requiring criminal background checks for employment and licensing purposes, and more importantly the growing number of people who now have criminal records.’  The FBI background check reforms included in the new Senate bill were featured in the REDEEM Act, introduced by Senator Booker and Senator Rand Paul.

“Mass incarceration and over-criminalization have taken a heavy toll on the nation, and especially on communities of color hardest hit by the issue.  Much more needs to be done, but we applaud the hard work of the Senate to advance the cause of criminal justice reform and for focusing directly on the fundamental need to reform our deeply flawed system of criminal background checks for employment.”

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