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Bipartisan Legislation Would Ease Hiring of Former Felons

A bipartisan group of Members of Congress have introduced legislation in the House and Senate that would make it easier for those with felony criminal histories to secure employment with the government or federal contractors by prohibiting asking applicants about their criminal history until transmission of a conditional offer of employment.

The Fair Chance Act (H.R. 3470; S. 2021) was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) and in the House by Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Darrell Issa (R-CA).

The bipartisan, bicameral legislative effort to ease hiring of those who were incarcerated, but completed serving their time and are seeking to reenter society and the workforce follows a trend of many states, cities, and private companies who “Ban the Box” and do not ask job applicants about past felony convictions on applications.

“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.

“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.

“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.

Introduction of the Fair Chance Act follows similar bipartisan efforts from earlier this year. In May, Sens. Booker and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) led a bipartisan letter of 25 Senators in urging the President to “ban the box” for federal agency and contractor job applications. Also in May, Reps. Cummings, Jackson Lee (D-TX), Blumenauer (D-OR), Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Richmond (D-LA), Conyers (D-MI), and Scott (D-VA) signed a similar letter to the President that included signatures from over 70 House Members.  

“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.

Additional information about the Fair Chance Act can be accessed here


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