Today, President Obama will announce executive action to assist people who have been convicted of crimes:
President Obama on Monday will announce a series of measures designed to reduce obstacles facing former prisoners reintegrating into society, including an executive order directing federal employers to delay asking questions about a job applicant's criminal history until later in the application process.This is by no means a comprehensive solution to overpolicing, mass incarceration, and the subsequent fallout of convictions even for people who don't reoffend, but it is an important step. It is, particularly, an important step to take for people who are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system and who are already disadvantaged by hiring practices, i.e. poor people of color.
Many states, cities and private employers have already taken steps to "ban the box," which refers to the checkbox on employment applications asking if the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime. However, some federal employers and contractors still ask the question.
Civil rights activists have urged Obama to propose the executive order, noting that such questions can limit the ability for people with a criminal record to gain employment and get their lives back on track after prison. Advocates argue that those formerly in prison should be allowed to prove their qualifications for a job instead of being eliminated early in the process due to their criminal background.
The issue has come up on the campaign trail, with all three Democratic presidential candidates pledging support for a "ban the box" policy.
Obama will also announce other initiatives designed to improve rehabilitation and re-entry for former inmates, including education and housing grants, as well as partnerships between local municipalities and private companies that would provide jobs and training in technology.
He will also propose more funding for legal aid programs and policies to reduce the legal hurdles for former prisoners applying for public housing, a process which also uses an applicant's criminal history as a factor in determining eligibility.
We say that people who have served their time deserve a second chance, but, in practice, there are precious few opportunities for second chances made available to people who have been convicted of felonies.
In related news: Hillary Clinton rolled out some of the key policies in her proposed racial justice reforms on Friday. At the same event, her speech was disrupted by Black Lives Matter activists, who were eventually escorted out of the venue. I still believe quite firmly that BLM protesters should be given the mic, literally invited to share candidates' platforms. Jamil Smith does an excellent job of covering both Clinton's proposals and the protest here: "Hillary Clinton's Racial Justice Platform Is Finally Taking Shape."
People can (and will) argue that activists and protesters aren't Doing It Right (and there are also legitimate differences of opinion on strategy within the diverse black anti-carceral activist community, which is different than the silencing masked as "criticism" I'm addressing here), but it's tough to argue that this approach is wrong, or ineffective, or whatever when the President and possible future president are rolling out criminal justice reforms that we all know damn well they wouldn't have without pressure from the activists and advocates who have been doing critical awareness-raising on these issues for decades.