Scott Olson

President Barack Obama will issue an Executive Order to ban federal employers from asking about applicants' criminal histories on their initial application forms, the A.P. reports. The order will apply to federal government employers but not contractors for the government.

Giving people who have served time a better chance at finding employment without discrimination could be an important step in helping to avoid re-incarceration, a cycle that's hard to break for many former prisoners trying to build lives after prison. MSNBC reports that finding a job is essential to keeping people out of the prison system:

About 60-to-75% of former inmates cannot find work within their first year out of jail, according to the Justice Department, a huge impediment to re-entering society.

Research shows the existence of a criminal record can reduce an employer’s interest in applicants by about 50%, and that when white and black applicants both have records, employers are far less likely to call back a black applicant than a white one. As a 2009 re-entry study in New York city found, “the criminal record penalty suffered by white applicants (30%) is roughly half the size of the penalty for blacks with a record (60%).”

During a visit to a federal prison in July this year, the president told prisoners, “If the disclosure of a criminal record happens later in a job application process, you’re more likely to be hired.”

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The National Employment Law Project (NELP) tells us that over 100 cities and counties have adopted similar legislation so far, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York and more. Some, including Hawaii, Illinois, and Massachusetts have also removed the box from application forms for private employers. The group says banning the question until later on in the employment process give applicants a fair chance regardless of their criminal history.

Obama will make the announcement, along with more measures providing support for re-entry services, at an event at Integrity House (a drug treatment facility) in Newark, New Jersey this afternoon.