President Obama will announce several small initiatives today intended to make it easier for former prisoners to find jobs and live in subsidized housing, the New York Times reports. In a trip to Newark, Obama will visit a residential drug-treatment center, Integrity House, to highlight efforts to ease the re-entry of offenders leaving prison. He also will convene a round-table discussion at the Newark campus of Rutgers University with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark. The focus on helping former prisoners readjust to the outside world is all the more timely with the decision by the U. S. Sentencing Commission to release more than 6,000 federal inmates sooner than expected under reduced penalties for drug offenses. Obama, Congress and several states are working on other initiatives to reduce sentences for nonviolent crimes. “We can help those who have served their time and earned a second chance get the support they need to become productive members of society,” Obama said in his weekly radio and online address on Saturday.
He said, “Everyone has a role to play, from businesses that are hiring ex-offenders to philanthropies that are supporting education and training programs.” With more than two million people in federal, state and local lockups, revamping the criminal justice system decades after the tough-on-crime movement of the 1980s and 1990s has become one of the rare areas of bipartisan consensusy. Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have joined to advance a measure to overhaul sentencing rules, and the president has made it one of his top domestic priorities for his final year in office. The measures Obama is announcing today are modest, important less for their individual effect than for the direction they keep the country moving. They reflect a belief that former inmates should have greater leeway to apply for jobs and housing without disclosing criminal records that would hinder their chances. Obama will order the federal Office of Personnel Management to delay inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process for federal jobs, so that applicants are not rejected before having a chance to impress those making employment decisions. Most federal agencies have already taken this step. He will announce grants and initiatives to provide job training for those with criminal records, including a software development program in Newark, and new guidance for public authorities clarifying when arrests can be used to determine eligibility for assisted housing. There also will be a new national clearinghouse to help former inmates expunge or seal records where possible.