Members lead legislative effort to help former inmates re-enter workforce

Legislation led by U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) would help former inmates re-enter the workforce by limiting federal contractors’ ability to inquire about criminal histories.

The Fair Chance Act would prohibit federal employers and contractors from asking applicants about their criminal history until the final stage of the interview process to give former inmates a better chance to successfully reintegrate into society.

“The Fair Chance Act represents second chances and opportunity,” Ernst said. “This bipartisan legislation opens doors to those with a record who have served their time, and empowers them to pursue employment with the federal government or contractors based on their qualifications. Additionally, this legislation maintains safeguards for employers and proactively works to reduce recidivism and protect tax dollars. It’s my hope that the Senate will move on this important legislation as quickly as possible.”

Federal contractors would be prohibited from asking questions related to criminal history until the conditional offer stage of the interview process — but the Fair Chance Act includes exceptions for positions related to law enforcement, national security, and positions in which the law requires access to criminal histories.

“If someone getting out of prison wants to work and be a productive member of society we should do everything possible to facilitate that,” Johnson said. “The dignity of work is one of the best ways we can keep people from turning back to a life of crime. Between legislation like this bill and community workforce development initiatives like the Joseph Project, we can continue to help people get back to work and improve the safety of our communities, strengthen families, and reduce government dependence.”

The measure would also require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to coordinate efforts with the U.S. Census Bureau to report on employment statistics for formerly incarcerated individuals.

“The best way to prevent people from returning to lives of crime is to ensure that those leaving the criminal justice system have reasonable opportunities to become productive members of society,” Issa said. “Unfortunately, the current system makes it difficult for those trying to turn their lives around to find jobs or other opportunities to move forward. Regardless of their skills or qualifications, they’re often passed over for employment and are forced to pay for their mistakes long after they’ve done their time. The message we inadvertently end up sending is that those who commit a crime will never be given a second chance.”

The Fair Chance Act will help break the cycle of crime and give many Americans opportunities to turn their lives around, Issa said.

The legislation garnered bipartisan support, with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) helping to introduce the bills in the Senate and House.

Last May more than 70 Members of the House sent a letter to former President Obama urging him to adopt “ban the box” hiring policies in the federal government. In November, the Office of Personnel Management issued a final rule promoting fair chance hiring policies.

Eighteen states and more than 100 cities and counties have adopted those hiring policies, including companies such as Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Starbucks.