CLASP Supports Reintroduction of the REDEEM and Fair Chance Act

By Duy Pham and Victoria Palacio 

A bipartisan group of legislators has reintroduced the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment (REDEEM) Act and the Fair Chance Act in both the House and Senate. The Fair Chance Act ensures job applicants would be considered based on their qualifications and not on their conviction history by “banning the box” for federal government and federal contracted employers. The REDEEM Act works to mitigate some of the 40,000 collateral consequences formerly incarcerated individuals face when returning to society. It does so by expanding rights for sealing and expunging records of nonviolent adult and juvenile ex-offenders and by lifting the lifetime ban on receiving benefits from key assistance programs by many non-violent drug offenders.

Our criminal justice system disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color, greatly contributing to the cycle of marginalization. Research has shown that Black and Latino individuals are more likely to be arrested, sentenced, and punished more severely for the same crimes as White individuals. This has led to Blacks and Latinos comprising 59 percent of all prisoners, despite making up only 26 percent of the overall population. Sadly, the disproportionate impact extends well beyond incarceration. Over 650,000 individuals – the majority of whom are nonviolent offenders – are released from prison every year, and upon reentry they face nearly insurmountable barriers to education, employment, housing, and health care. These barriers serve as perpetual punishments to returning citizens and prevent them from succeeding socially and economically. Studies have shown that over two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years and three-quarters are rearrested within five years. Eliminating barriers to employment through “ban the box” initiatives and creating a pathway to expungement for nonviolent offenders can significantly increase their success and help to close racial achievement gaps.

In addition to expanding expungement and sealing rights for nonviolent offenders, the REDEEM Act would allow people convicted of low-level drug offenses to obtain support through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF and SNAP are critical benefits that can help returning citizens re-integrate into their communities. These programs can address the food insecurity and financial instability those who are formerly incarcerated often face while seeking employment and reduce the financial hardship of their families.  Returning citizens have already paid their debt to society and deserve a second chance. Removing the ban may also allow people to participate in the employment and training services available to SNAP and TANF recipients.

CLASP supports the REDEEM and Fair Chance Acts to give returning citizens an opportunity to achieve success and urges Congress to pass these bills. In addition, CLASP supports similar initiatives to eliminate barriers to successful reentry including the ban on Pell grants for those who are incarcerated. Ensuring returning citizens are able to succeed will bring us closer to realizing justice for our nation’s most marginalized communities.