President Obama announced last week that his administration will refrain from asking about a job seeker’s criminal background at the application stage for most positions. Riding the wave of similar “ban the box” policies passed in numerous cities across the country, the president’s action aims to help ease the process of securing jobs for those coming out of prison, in hopes that the gainfully employed will be less inclined to return.
The announcement coincides with the early release of some 6,000 prisoners from federal custody, who have been either incarcerated or were under legal supervision. Their release began Friday, Oct. 30, and ran through Tuesday, Nov. 3. Another 8,500 federal prisoners are eligible for early release before next November, while some 46,000 drug offenders in total could be freed over the next few years, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. These emancipations come courtesy of a retroactive application of new U.S. Sentencing Commission guidelines, which shave two years, on average, off of certain prisoners’ sentences for nonviolent, federal drug convictions.
Last year, the Commission acknowledged that too many people have been toiling in prison for too long for crimes that don’t warrant lengthy punishment. The result has been a mass-incarceration crisis fed by the over-criminalization of drugs, and a mandatory-minimum-sentencing court regime. The number of people in jail for federal drug offenses grew 63 percent between 1998 and 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. More than 75 percent of the prisoners in that group were either black or Latino.