April 7, 2017 – Yesterday, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and Representatives introduced two bicameral bills aimed at addressing the collateral consequences of criminal records. The proposed legislation includes critical reforms that would reduce barriers to employment, education, housing and safety net services that affect 70 million adults in the U.S. who have an arrest or conviction record.
Legal Action Center President, Paul Samuels, says, “These bills represent important steps at the federal level to reduce the harmful and sometimes life-long collateral consequences of criminal records. We applaud the sponsors for their continued commitment reforming these fundamentally unfair policies and working towards a more just criminal justice system.”
Roberta Meyers, Director of the National H.I.R.E. Network at the Legal Action Center says, “When a person completes a criminal sentence, society expects them to return home, rejoin and recommit to their community, and to support themselves and their family. But current laws and policies deny people access to many of the opportunities essential to achieving this goal.” She adds, “Reducing barriers to employment, housing and basic safety net services for people who have completed their sentences is the right thing to do, both ethically and economically.”
The REDEEM Act (S.842/H.R.1905) would significantly expand the rights of juveniles and adults to seal and expunge their federal records, require the FBI to adopt protections that ensure the accuracy of FBI rap sheets generated for employment screening purposes lift the lifetime ban on TANF and SNAP for people with lower level drug offenses and create an exception for a number of individuals, including people receiving care for a substance use disorder, incentivize the states to limit the original jurisdiction of adult criminal courts to people over 18, and restrict the use of juvenile solitary confinement,. In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). In the House, the bill is sponsored by Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Karen Bass (D-CA), Lacy Clay (D-MO), John Conyers (D-MI), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Barbara Lee (D-CA).
The Fair Chance Act (S.827/H.R.1906) seeks to improve fairness in the hiring process for people with criminal records by prohibiting the federal government from requesting criminal history information from applicants until they reach the conditional offer stage, prohibiting federal contractors from requesting criminal history information from candidates for most positions until the conditional offer stage, and requiring the Bureau of Justice Statistics to issue a report on the employment statistics of formerly incarcerated individuals. In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Senators Booker, Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joni Ernst (R-IA).
The Legal Action Center has long-advocated to remove the many harmful barriers that people with criminal records face, including many of the reforms included in these bills. For more information about our position on these issues and other recommendations to reduce collateral consequences of arrest or conviction, please see our 2016 report entitled “Roadmap For Promoting Health and Justice.”