The Trump White House has withdrawn a plan from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that would have added another layer of criminal history scrutiny to the pre-hiring process for federal jobs.
Per a report from the Washington Post, the Trump Administration quietly pulled the OPM proposal, which was revealed to the public in February. The plan would have required candidates for federal jobs to disclose whether they had ever completed a pretrial diversion program in place of a criminal conviction or prison sentence.
Under the policy, any candidate who received a federal job offer would have been expected to inform the hiring manager about his or her participation in a diversion program. These disclosures, along with other background check findings, could have led hiring managers to rescind job offers.
Diversion programs are growing more common in virtually every state. They often represent a way for the court system to respond to low-level offenders without shackling them to a formal “criminal/convict” status. Diversion programs include drug treatment, alcohol rehabilitation, community service, and anger management or other types of counseling. An individual who completes one of these programs will typically walk away with no conviction on his or her record.
Advocates of criminal justice reform see diversion programs as a strong way to offer second chances to individuals who made mistakes but did not engage in major criminal offenses or build criminal histories.
After the OPM posted the new disclosure proposal in February, individuals from both sides of the political aisle lambasted the rule, suggesting that it would stigmatize diversion programs in the same way as criminal history. The OPM argued that the purpose of the initiative was to speed up the background check process, and that its background check processes can already determine whether an individual went through a diversion program.
In most cases, criminal history background checks will reveal details about deferred adjudications and their associated diversion programs. This information is included in a background check report. Most background checks exclude arrests that didn’t lead to a conviction.
Some proponents of criminal justice reform claim that the decision to pull this initiative was a purely political move. President Trump supported criminal justice reform in the lead-up to his 2020 re-election campaign and attacked leading Democratic candidate Joe Biden for Biden’s role in helping pass President Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill, legislation that has been heavily criticized in the years since its passing for its “tough on crime” initiatives. In particular, the bill offered no quarter to drug offenders convicted of offenses involving crack or cocaine—a stance believed to have brought about disproportionate incarceration rates for minorities.
Critics claim that Trump’s decision to kill the OPM proposal is part of a strategy to appear forward-thinking on criminal justice reform. Advocates are encouraging the President to support a bill that would ban the box for federal jobs.