WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society sent a letter to President Obama this week urging him to adopt federal fair-chance hiring policies. These policies would enable people with criminal records to overcome the stigma of their past and demonstrate their qualifications for employment with federal agencies and contractors.
We believe every person has the right to a job at a living wage.
“We believe every person has the right to a job at a living wage, and the government has a responsibility to help provide for such jobs when they do not exist.” states the letter, which was signed by the agency’s chief executive the Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe.
The letter emphasizes that The United Methodist Church has a 300-year-old commitment to prison ministry and service to those who have been incarcerated.
Henry-Crowe points out that the denomination’s Book of Resolutions states, “Holy Scriptures speak repeatedly of the God who reminds us that it is unjust to construct or perpetuate barriers to physical wholeness or full participation in community” (#4060).
“Our church seeks to aid those who have been disconnected from our communities,” Henry-Crowe writes.
Multitude of challenges
To date mass incarceration and criminalization have resulted in 70 million Americans being burdened by a criminal record, according to the letter. It points out that people with criminal records encounter a multitude of challenges even after the completion of their sentence, including restrictions on government benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, limits to education, employment licensing and public housing.
Bias against people with criminal records has led to unfair treatment by employers and landlords.
“Bias against people with criminal records has led to unfair treatment by employers and landlords resulting in widespread unemployment and, for some, chronic homelessness,” Henry-Crowe declares.
The United Methodist Church is committed to reentry and creating congregations that are Healing Communities for those impacted by the criminal-justice system, according to Henry-Crowe. “We applaud your continued support in the area of criminal-justice reform,” she writes. “We hope that you will also demonstrate leadership to ensure that people with criminal records are not arbitrarily denied employment because of fear and misconceptions.”
Henry-Crowe says that by eliminating questions about a job seeker's criminal record from federal applications, those who might be automatically excluded from consideration because of a record but are otherwise qualified, can have an opportunity to present the circumstances of their past after all other factors are considered.
Call for executive action
“Expanding opportunities for federal employment to people with criminal records sends an important message to would-be employers about the importance of extending a second chance,” Henry-Crowe says. “Moreover, each good job earned provides for the restoration of hope in an individual's life and that of his or her family.”
The letter tells the president that now is the time to take executive action to open employment opportunities for Americans who have been unfairly locked out of the job market because of a record. “We urge you to issue an executive order and a presidential memorandum that ensure that both federal agencies and federal contractors are doing their part to eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment for people with conviction records,” the letter states.