In a time when the need for criminal justice reform seems to be the only issue both sides of the aisle can agree on, President Barack Obama just announced a slew of measures that will directly impact the lives of ex-offenders. More than 70 million Americans have some type of criminal record—and they are disproportionately black and Latino. More than 600,000 people are released from prisons and jails each year, and the National Institute of Justice reports that 60 to 75 percent of them are unable to find a job in the first year after their release.
The president’s announcement came during a speech at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, which focused on reducing the barriers that those millions of formerly-incarcerated people face while trying to reestablish themselves in the world outside prison.
“A lot of times, that record disqualifies you from being a full participant in our society. Even if you’ve already paid your debt to society. It means millions of Americans have difficultly even getting their foot in the door to try and get a job, much less actually hang on to that job,” he said. “That’s bad for not only those individuals, it’s bad for our economy. It’s bad for the communities that desperately need more role models who are gainfully employed. So we’ve gotta make sure Americans who’ve paid their debt to society can earn their second chance.”
Here are the major initiatives from the announcement:
“Ban the Box” in federal employment. There are two parts here. First, the president has directed the Office of Personnel Management to stop asking about convictions on applications and delay criminal history searches until later in the process. Second, the p resident encouraged Congress to pass the Fair Chance Act, which would ban the box for all who seek to work with federal agencies and contractors and delay background checks until after a conditional offer has been issued.
Issue grants for adult reentry education programs. The Department of Education will award up to $8 million dollars to nine communities to help them provide education opportunities for ex-offenders.
Ban public housing authorities (PHA) from considering arrest records. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released new guidelines that prevent PHAs from using arrest records to deny housing, terminate assistance or evict tenants.
Expand the TechHire initiative. This 30-city program provides technology career training and job placement, and partners in four new cities just signed on to work with ex-offenders.
Establish a National Clean Slate Clearinghouse. This office will support public defender offices, legal aid programs and reentry service providers who seek to help ex-offenders expunge data from their records.
Launch housing programs to assist with reentry. HUD and the Justice Department are pairing up for two re-entry housing programs. The $1.7 million Juvenile Re-Entry Assistance Program will help PHAs and legal assistance organizations provide housing and employment for young people entangled in the juvenile justice system. The Pay for Success Permanent Supportive Housing Demonstration Program will dedicate $8.67 million to initiatives that place newly released people in housing and keeping them off the streets.