The Obama administration has gone into overdrive in the last two months, pushing administrative policy changes to make it easier for ex-convicts to rejoin society, but at the same time sparking concern that reforms will increase crime and jeopardize safety.
The federal efforts have been spurred on in part by bipartisan criminal justice reforms enacted at the state level and changing public opinion that has warmed to second chances, experts say.
Reforms have included recommendations to make it easier for ex-offenders to obtain state ID cards, removing questions about criminal history from federal job applications and suggestions to do the same for college applications, and warning landlords that rejecting renters based on their criminal history may violate federal law.
The federal focus primarily has been on making it easier for inmates to readjust to life outside of prison — with the concern being that ex-convicts are more likely to commit crimes if they can’t get jobs or secure housing.
“Employment is key to lowering recidivism, and all of these things are going to help ease barriers to employment,” said Inimai M. Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center for Justice.
According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, nearly half of 25,000 inmates released from federal prisons in 2005 were rearrested for a new crime or violation of parole within eight years, and one-quarter were reincarcerated during that time.
Opponents to reform measures, including an overhaul of mandatory minimum sentencing laws that is currently being considered by Congress, worry that by opening the door to ex-offenders, lawmakers will open a floodgate to crime.
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