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U.S. to Curb Queries on Criminal Histories of Government Job Seekers

Apr 29, 2016 / Media Coverage / New York Times — Eric Lichtblau

WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday will move to bar federal agencies from asking applicants for tens of thousands of government jobs about their criminal histories until the very end of the process.

While checks of criminal histories have become routine in the public and private sectors, a regulation being proposed by the Obama administration would remove a barrier that discourages many freed prisoners from applying for jobs. The rule would prevent supervisors interviewing applicants for about half of all federal positions from asking about a job seeker’s criminal or credit history until a conditional offer is made.

The ban is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to ease the path back to society for some 600,000 people released from prison each year and promote what it says are fairer and more effective criminal justice policies. The administration announced related steps earlier in the week, including a push for states to issue identification to newly freed prisoners.

Valerie Jarrett, a top adviser to President Obama, told reporters on Thursday that, in its effort to help inmates “thrive as productive law-abiding citizens” after their release, the administration had secured pledges from 112 companies and groups to also follow its policy, known as “ban the box.” Those companies and groups employ 1.5 million people.

Officials said that policies requiring applicants to check a box if they have a criminal history discourage many freed prisoners even though they may still be eligible for the jobs.

Mr. Obama directed officials in November to develop details for the new regulation. It will be published online on Friday, and the public will then have 60 days to submit comments before a final rule is issued.

“The federal government, I believe, should not use criminal history to screen out applicants before we even look at their qualifications,” Mr. Obama said in a speech at Rutgers University. “We can’t dismiss people out of hand simply because of a mistake that they made in the past.”

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