President Obama Announces Plan to Help Criminals Reintegrate Back into Society

By Michael Klazema on 11/6/2015
In October rumors emerged that Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton would take steps to ban the box for Federal agencies, if elected. The rumor wasn't too far-fetched: it supposedly came from the mouth of Clinton's aide, and meshed well with the former First Lady's hard line stance against mass incarceration and poor treatment of ex-convicts. Now, though, it looks like the current Democratic President has taken some of the wind out of the sails of his party's top candidate.

At the beginning of November President Barack Obama announced a series of initiatives designed to help ex-offenders reintegrate back into society, following criminal convictions or prison sentences. One of Obama's initiatives involves directing the government's Office of Personnel Management to remove questions pertaining to criminal history from job applications.

This step, which aligns with the "ban the box" or Fair Chance Employment movement that has been sweeping the nation for the past two or three years, is a notable move that could change the way hiring managers think about criminal histories during the pre-employment screening process.Some expected Obama to take sweeping executive action to implement "ban the box" policies across the entire Federal government. Instead, he only took the first step, but it's a notable one regardless. After all, in addition to instructing the OPM to adopt "ban the box" policies, Obama also encouraged Congress to pursue the legislature that would ban the box for all Federal agencies and contractors.

Other talking points Obama's speech, which was made from Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, included his plan to earmark $8 million in Federal education grants for purposes of criminal justice reform. Specifically, those grants would make educational opportunities available to recently released inmates, giving them the skills and confidence needed to compete for jobs.

"The problem we're trying to solve is not just to keep on catching people and putting them back in jail," Obama said. "The problem we're trying to solve here is giving people a foundation through which they can then become productive citizens."

These initiatives are great news for the Fair Chance movement, which has been seeking to put an end to employment discrimination against those with criminal history. The worry is that employers will see that an applicant has checked the criminal history box on their job application and discard that application. And even if the application doesn't just get thrown in the trash, it's tough for ex-offenders to overcome that negative first impression as they work through the interview process.

By pushing for the box to be banned on a Federal scale, Obama is hoping to give ex-offenders and chance to prove their qualifications and character before their criminal history becomes a point of contention. And with Obama's ex-offender education initiative, individuals with criminal history would have a better chance of having the kinds of qualifications that win jobs.

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