As President Trump and prison reformers applauded the new First Step Act, the Trump administration was taking steps critics say would throw up a potential roadblock for those accused of misdemeanors or low-level felonies, reports the Washington Post. Under a proposed update to federal hiring requirements, people who get a job offer from the government or its contractors would have to disclose whether they went through a pretrial diversion program that allowed them to avoid prison and a criminal record. The answer could lead an agency to rescind the offer.
The proposal was posted for public comment by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in February. Activists on the political left and right, who have joined forces to push broadly for a fairer justice system, say they were blindsided by the diversion disclosure — an extra level of screening that typically is not used by private companies. “If this doesn’t get corrected, we’ll be on it,” said Mark Holden of Koch Industries, the private company controlled by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, whose political network worked closely with presidential adviser Jared Kushner on the First Step Act. Koch-backed groups were among dozens of criminal justice reform advocates to mobilize last week against the proposed requirement, barraging Kushner and Ja’Ron Smith, a White House adviser who worked on the First Step Act, with text messages and phone calls. Advocates say screening for diversion programs would shrink the pool of applicants for government work and openings with thousands of federal contractors. OPM said the current requirement that applicants disclose prior criminal conduct includes any participation in diversion programs. The new language is merely an effort to make that clear, the agency said.