As part of President Obama’s recent speech calling justice reform, the federal government pushes to reduce the effects of criminal records on convicts in society, including the use of criminal records in the hiring process ( see our blog on EEOC Criminal Record initiatives here:Questions and Answers About the EEOC Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII.) The speech presented an expansive yet detailed argument not only for reducing the number of people serving time in prison, but for changing the way prison time is spent so that individuals return to society better-equipped to succeed.
Employers should take note as this continued agenda will more than likely continue to limit the amount of criminal record information you are allowed to see as well as limit what actions you are allowed to make regarding employment on the information you receive.
Pre-employ.com offers a free webinar on the EEOC e-race initiative and guidelines for employers here: EEOC Sets Priorities on Staffing and Hiring Cases
According to Slate.com, the speech, delivered in Philadelphia at the annual conference of the NAACP, comes one day after the president commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders serving time in federal prison, and one day before a scheduled visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma.
The speech was wide-ranging—Obama said he wanted to talk about proposals “in the community, in the courtroom, and in the cellblock”—but was built upon a basic thesis, that the American criminal justice system “is not as fair as it should be,” and that “while the people in our prisons have made some mistakes, and sometimes big mistakes, they are also Americans.”
“Mass incarceration makes our country worse off,” Obama said, “and we need to do something about it.”
Obama emphasized the disproportionate effect that the past 30 years of criminal justice has had on black and Hispanic Americans, noting that they make up 30 percent of the general population but roughly 60 percent of the incarcerated population. He also called for reinvestment in underprivileged communities, making the argument that unless money is spent on creating opportunities for people who might otherwise resort to crime, justice reform will only go so far.
“We can’t ask our police, or our prosecutors, or our prison guards, or our judges to bear the entire burden of containing and controlling problems that the rest of us are not facing up to and aren’t willing to do something about,” he said. Adding further explanation, Obama continued, “Today I’ve been talking about the criminal justice system, but we have to recognize that it’s not something that we can view in isolation. Any system that allows us to turn a blind eye to hopelessness and despair—that’s not a justice system. It’s an injustice system. But that’s an extension and a reflection of some broader decisions that we’re making as a society. And that has to change.”
The speech broke at least two pieces of news. First, the president expressed full-throated support for re-enfranchising convicted felons who have served their time. “If folks have served their time, and they’ve re-entered society, they should be able to vote,” he said, to loud applause. Such a change would affect approximately 4 million people across the country who currently cannot vote because of their criminal records, even though they are no longer incarcerated.
The president ended on a personal note, echoing a comment he made after the death of Trayvon Martin. You can watch that clip from the Washington post here: Obama on Trayvon Martin: ‘If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon’
“There are times when people say, ‘Oh, the President—he’s too optimistic.’ Or, ‘He’s not talking enough about how bad things are.’ Let me tell you something—I see what happens. My heart breaks when I see families who are impacted. I spend time with those families, and feel their grief. I see those young men on street corners, and eventually, in prisons. And I think to myself, they could be me. That the main difference between me and them is that I had a more forgiving environment, so that when I slipped up, when I made a mistake, I had a second chance, and they’ve got no margin for error.”
Regardless of your political views, the realities for hiring managers are clear: Continued scrutiny of hiring practices will continue. What decisions you make now regarding the pre-employment screening process will very likely be talked about and scrutinized for years to come
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