WASHINGTON — The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve the Fair Chance Act, a bipartisan bill led by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) to give formerly incarcerated individuals a fairer chance at employment. Other cosponsors include Sen. Joni Ernst(R-IA), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).
"The committee’s passage of the Fair Chance Act today is a testament to the growing bipartisan support for reforms that break down barriers to hiring people who’ve paid their debt to society and are looking to turn their lives around,” said Sen. Booker. “There are millions of Americans with records who are too often passed over by employers without considering their skills or qualifications. This collateral consequence only increases the likelihood of recidivism at great cost to taxpayers and communities in New Jersey and across the country. Rethinking our approach to criminal justice – including what happens to individuals who want to become productive members of society -- will save taxpayer dollars and restore America’s promise as a nation of liberty and justice.”
“The Fair Chance Act is another example of the bipartisanship I have sought during my time as chairman,” said Johnson. “I am grateful that a group of senators and House members with differing backgrounds and political views can agree on improving the lives of Americans coming out of prison who are dedicated to turning their lives around.
"If someone getting out of prison wants to work, wants to be a productive member of society, we should do everything we can to facilitate that. The dignity of work is one of the best ways we can keep people from turning back to a life of crime. This makes our communities safer, keeps families together, and makes people less dependent on the government. I thank Senator Booker for his tremendous leadership on these issues, and am pleased to do my part shepherding it through the committee.”
Over 70 million Americans have criminal histories and are faced with the daunting task of trying to turn their lives around. They face significant challenges obtaining 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 are 60 percent less likely to receive a callback or job offer than those without records. For individuals trying to overcome a troubled past, a criminal conviction poses a substantial barrier to employment.
Eighteen states and more than 100 cities and counties have enacted some form of a “ban the box” policy to help people with records overcome the barrier to employment of having to “check the box” about a past felony conviction on a job application. Additionally, companies such as Walmart, Koch Industries, Target, Home Depot, and Bed, Bath & Beyond have embraced similar policies to more fairly assess job applicants.
The Fair Chance Act would:
• Give formerly incarcerated Americans a foot in the door for employment in federal agencies and on government contracts by moving criminal history inquiries to the end of the hiring process. 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 end of the hiring process;
• 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, positions that involve interaction with minors, and other commonsense exceptions; and
• Require the Department of Labor, U.S. Census Bureau, and Bureau of Justice Statistics to issue a report on the employment statistics of formerly incarcerated individuals.