For Obama, ignorance is bliss when it comes to criminal records

Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, but for Barack Obama, that doesn’t matter in the initial screening of federal employees.  Ari Melber reports for MSNBC:

President Obama on Monday announced a new order to reduce potential discrimination against former convicts in the hiring process for federal government employees.

It is a step towards what many criminal justice reformers call “ban the box” – the effort to eliminate requirements that job applicants check a box on their applications if they have a criminal record.

While the rule was once seen as a common sense way for employers to screen for criminal backgrounds, it has been increasingly criticized as a hurdle that fosters employment discrimination against former inmates, regardless of the severity of their offense or how long ago it occurred. Banning the box delays when employers learn of an applicant’s record.

Obama has lots of company in wanting to help ex-cons get a leg up in the hiring process:

 Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a ban the box bill into law last year. Hillary Clinton endorsed ban the box last week, while Republican Sen. Rand Paul also introduced similar federal legislation, with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, to seal criminal records for non-violent offenders.

The “non-violent” label can be deceiving, given the huge number of cases in which a defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offense so that prosecutors can avoid a long and costly trial on the more severe charges they believe the defendant is guilty of.

Obama’s change will not completely eliminate consideration of the criminal record.  In July he told a group of prisoners:

“If the disclosure of a criminal record happens later in a job application process,” he told them, “you’re more likely to be hired.” Obama described what many studies show – that when many employers see the box checked for an applicant’s criminal record, they weed them out without ever looking at their qualifications.

In other words, some time will be wasted evaluating (and possibly interviewing) an employee who is unqualified for a position by dint of a criminal record.  But perhaps others will make it past the first screen and eventually find employment, and one hopes their behavior has changed sufficiently that they will not revert to old patterns and values.

One certain prediction: Obama and his family will never be guarded by a Secret Service agent with a criminal record.

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