Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Reps. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) and Doug Collins (R-GA) introduced the Fair Chance Act, bipartisan, bicameral legislation to give formerly incarcerated individuals a fairer chance at finding a job by prohibiting the federal government and federal contractors from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant prior to a conditional offer of employment. U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Rob Portman (R-OH) are all original cosponsors.
Throughout the country, cities and states have implemented fair chance polices to remove a significant barrier to employment for people with criminal records by having to “check the box” about a past criminal conviction on a job application. Thirty-three states and over 150 cities and counties have taken action, giving formerly incarcerated people a fairer chance to secure employment.
“We have a criminal justice system where the collateral consequences for Americans with a criminal conviction are like getting a life sentence—affecting their ability to vote, to get housing and critically, to get back to work,” said Senator Booker. “This bipartisan bill will break down the barriers that prevent people who have paid their debt to society from getting a job, so that we can better advance our goals of justice, rehabilitation and redemption for all.”
“Working with the Joseph Project has shown me that the dignity of work is one of the best ways to keep someone from turning back to a life of crime. Getting people back to work improves the safety of our communities, strengthens families, and reduces government dependence – goals that all Americans share. If someone getting out of prison wants to work and be a productive member of society, we should do everything possible to facilitate that. The Fair Chance Act is an important step in that direction,” said Senator Johnson.
“I am proud to sponsor this bipartisan and bicameral legislation to expand ‘ban-the-box’ policies to the federal government. These policies are commonsense criminal justice reforms that have shown potential for reducing recidivism and breaking cycles of crime in many states, including Maryland. This bill would give individuals who are reentering society from prison a fair chance at truly achieving the American dream and becoming contributing members of our communities,” said Representative Cummings.
“The Fair Chance Act helps rehabilitated men and women gain meaningful employment. As we build on the reforms of the First Step Act, we know that jobs are a key factor in lowering recidivism rates, and this bill removes an unnecessary barrier to those jobs,” said Ranking Member Collins.
“People who have made mistakes and paid their debt to society deserve a chance to move forward and live a productive life,” said Senator Baldwin. “But far too often millions of Americans with criminal histories who have served their time face unfair barriers that stand in the way of pursuing a job. This bipartisan reform will help ensure that every American has a fair chance to secure a steady job, work to support their family and strengthen our communities.”
“The Fair Chance Act represents a second chance. Our bipartisan bill works to reduce recidivism and provide opportunity for individuals with past offenses to pursue federal employment, while also safeguarding employers and protecting our tax dollars,” said Senator Ernst. “The Senate acted in a swift, bipartisan manner on the First Step Act, and we should do it again with this legislation.”
“I’m proud that the Senate passed the First Step Act last Congress – but as the name suggests, it was just a first step. Now we need to keep working to fix the inequities in our criminal justice system. Fair hiring practices help ensure that people who have served their time can reenter the workforce without continuing to be punished for their past mistakes,” said Senator Brown. “All Americans deserve the chance to earn a living and make a positive contribution to their communities.”
"The Fair Chance Act will help formerly incarcerated individuals live out their God-given potential,” Senator Portman said. "This legislation will change lives in Ohio and across the country by ensuring the mistakes of our past don't have to define the potential for our future. I hope that we all can join together on a bipartisan basis to support those who want a fair shot at living an honest and productive life."
The Fair Chance Act would:
Prevent the federal government—including the executive, legislative, and judicial branches—from requesting criminal history information from applicants until they reach the conditional offer stage;
Prohibit federal contractors from requesting criminal history information from candidates for positions within the scope of federal contracts until the conditional offer stage;
Include important exceptions for positions related to law enforcement and national security duties, positions requiring access to classified information, and positions for which access to criminal history information before the conditional offer stage is required by law; and
Require the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in coordination with the U.S. Census Bureau, to issue a report on the employment statistics of formerly incarcerated individuals.
More than 70 million Americans who have criminal histories are faced with the daunting task of securing employment. They face improbable odds in finding a job as a result of an arrest or criminal conviction. Studies show that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent for men in general. African-American men with criminal records have been 60 percent less likely to receive a callback or job offer than those without records. For individuals trying to turn the page on a difficult chapter in their lives, a criminal conviction poses a substantial barrier to employment.