President Barack Obama, who has made criminal justice reform a top priority of his last years in office, will announce actions on Monday to help formerly incarcerated people reintegrate into society.
The White House said the steps, to be unveiled by Obama at an appearance in Newark, New Jersey, would include up to $8 million in federal education grants over three years for former inmates as well as new guidance on the use of arrest records in determining eligibility for public and federally assisted housing.
Obama is also directing the Office of Personnel Management to take steps where possible to modify its rules in order to delay inquiries into criminal backgrounds until later in the hiring process.
“While most agencies already have taken this step, this action will better ensure that applicants from all segments of society, including those with prior criminal histories, receive a fair opportunity to compete for federal employment,” the White House said in a statement.
It added that Obama was encouraged that Congress was considering a measure to “ban the box” for criminal histories for hiring by federal agencies and contractors, following the lead of some cities, states and private companies.
Noting that more than 600,000 people were released every year from state and federal prisons, the White House said: “Advancing policies and programs that enable these men and women to put their lives back on track and earn their second chance promotes not only justice and fairness, but also public safety.”
Obama in July became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. He has called on Congress to pass sentencing reform to help reduce the number of people serving long sentences for non-violent drug crimes.
With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States accounts for about 25 percent of the world’s prison population, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
(Reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Andrew Hay)