More than 70 million Americans have some kind of criminal record. For them, and the 600,000 Americans released from state and federal prisons each year, having served time can often mean that the cornerstones of the reintegration process—securing a job and housing—become exceedingly difficult tasks.
Last week, President Obama signed a memorandum proposing a rule that would prohibit federal agencies from asking whether applicants for government jobs have a criminal record until the final phase in the job process. While it’s technically illegal to refuse to hire a qualified candidate due to a conviction unless the crime is directly related to the job, those with criminal histories are often discouraged or screened out due to disclosure requests on job applications.
In a statement supporting the president’s initiative, the Justice Department wrote that the measure is important because early inquiries into criminal records “may discourage motivated, well-qualified individuals who have served their time from applying for a federal job” and “could also lead to the disqualification of otherwise eligible candidates, regardless of whether an arrest actually resulted in charges or a conviction, and regardless of whether consideration of an applicant's criminal history is justified by business necessity.”