WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Mike Lee (R-UT), the lead sponsors of the recently-enacted First Step Act, voiced bipartisan opposition to the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) proposal to require applicants for federal jobs and contracting work to divulge their participation in criminal diversion programs. Diversion programs directly address the unjust and illogical consequences of a criminal conviction. These programs help individuals, families and communities, often by requiring participants to complete sorely needed evidence-based drug and mental health treatment programs. In a letter to Margaret Weichert, OPM Acting Director, the senators noted that there is strong, bipartisan support for these types of interventions, as shown by the First Step Act of 2018’s emphasis on helping individuals with criminal convictions successfully reenter their communities. They also noted that the Trump administration shares this goal, and recently noted the importance of “breaking th[e] cycle of recidivism by . . . mitigating the collateral consequences of incarceration.” 
 
“OPM’s proposed change—which will no doubt exclude deserving applicants from valued federal employment opportunities—is flatly at odds with these objectives,” the senators wrote. “Those who have accepted the consequences of their actions, and who in many cases have worked hard to complete court-mandated programming, should have the opportunity to reenter the workplace. We should be working to eliminate—not erect—such barriers.”
 
Full text of the letter is available here and below:
 
April 23, 2019
 
Dear Acting Director Weichert:
 
We write to oppose the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) proposal to require applicants for federal jobs and contracting work to divulge their participation in criminal diversion programs.[1]
 
An estimated 70 million people in the United States—nearly one in three adults—have a prior arrest or conviction record.[2] Research has shown that a conviction record reduces the likelihood of a job callback or offer by nearly 50 percent[3] with such consequences felt more acutely by people of color.[4] There is bipartisan acknowledgment that such consequences are disproportionate, unduly punitive, and counterproductive.
 
The proposed rule would require individuals to disclose their participation in diversion programs. These could include drug courts, veterans courts, or deferred prosecution agreements. Diversion programs directly address the unjust and illogical consequences of a criminal conviction. These programs help individuals, families, and communities, often by requiring participants to complete sorely needed evidence-based drug and mental health treatment programs. There is strong, bipartisan, support for these types of interventions, as shown by the First Step Act of 2018’s emphasis on helping individuals with criminal convictions successfully reenter their communities. The administration shares this goal, and recently noted the importance of “breaking th[e] cycle of recidivism by . . . mitigating the collateral consequences of incarceration.”[5] OPM’s proposed change—which will no doubt exclude deserving applicants from valued federal employment opportunities—is flatly at odds with these objectives. Nor will this change forward any legitimate agency objective, as this information is unduly prejudicial to job candidates. If prosecutors have determined that participation in a diversion program is sufficient, the federal government should not craft rules that undermine that judgment.
 
Our nation’s legal and moral underpinnings provide that anyone who makes a mistake and learns from it deserves a second chance. However, a brush with the law can trigger a cascade of collateral consequences that often severely hamper an individual’s ability to become a productive member of the community. People with criminal records face significant barriers to employment, housing and education. Diversion programs are a key tool to avoid these barriers and to deliver needed interventions to participants eager for help. Thousands of jurisdictions across the United States use these programs to help low-level and non-violent offenders, reduce recidivism, and increase employment.[6] But by treating diversions like convictions, OPM’s proposed change will undermine the benefits of diversion, and subvert the bipartisan consensus that it is time to prioritize rehabilitation and reintegration.
 
Those who have accepted the consequences of their actions, and who in many cases have worked hard to complete court-mandated programming, should have the opportunity to reenter the workplace. We should be working to eliminate—not erect—such barriers.
 
Sincerely,
 
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