Each year, more than 600,000 people are released from Federal and State prisons, and millions more are released from local jails. One in three working-age Americans has an arrest record. Many face long-term, sometimes lifelong, impacts of a criminal record that prevent them from getting a job or accessing housing, higher education, loans, credit, and more. Such barriers hurt public safety, add costs to the taxpayer, and damage the fabric of our communities. Removing these barriers and promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of people who have paid their debt to society is a critical piece of the Administration’s efforts to make the nation’s criminal justice system more fair and effective.
This week is National Reentry Week—a chance to call attention to the urgency of criminal justice reform and to highlight the ongoing work across the Federal government to remove barriers to reentry for people returning to their communities. Here at the Office of Personnel Management, we are doing our part.
Today, OPM issued a proposed rule that would ensure that applicants with a criminal history have a fair shot to compete for Federal jobs. The rule would effectively “ban the box” for a significant number of positions in the Federal Government by delaying the point in the hiring process when agencies can inquire about an applicant’s criminal history until a conditional offer is made. This change prevents candidates from being eliminated before they have a chance to demonstrate their qualifications.
Earlier inquiries into an applicant’s criminal history may discourage motivated, well-qualified individuals who have served their time from applying for a Federal job. Early inquiries could also lead to the premature disqualification of otherwise eligible candidates, regardless of whether an arrest actually resulted in a conviction, or whether consideration of an applicant’s criminal history is justified by business necessity. These barriers to employment unnecessarily narrow the pool of eligible and qualified candidates for federal employment, and also limit the opportunity for those with criminal histories to support themselves and their families.
This Administration is committed to pursuing public policies that promote fairness and equality. As the nation’s largest employer, the Federal Government should lead the way and serve as a model for all employers – both public and private.
The proposed rule builds on the current practice of many agencies, which already choose to collect information on criminal history at late stages of the hiring process. The rule would take the important step to codify, formalize, and expand this best practice.
There are certain times when an agency might be justified in disqualifying an applicant with criminal history, or collecting information on their background, earlier in the process. Therefore, OPM will set up a mechanism for agencies to request exceptions. These will be granted on a case-by-case basis. These exceptions could be granted either by individual position, or by class of positions, depending on the specifics of the case. For example, cases could include certain law enforcement jobs that require the ability to testify in court, or jobs where applicants undergo extensive and costly training before they are offered a job.
Banning the box for Federal hiring is an important step. It sends a clear signal to applicants, agencies, and employers across the country that the Federal Government is committed to making it easier for those who have paid their debts to society to successfully return to their communities, while staying true to the merit system principles that govern our civil service by promoting fair competition between applicants from all segments of society.