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Letter to President Obama, Ban the Box Executive Order and Pell Grant Restoration, 2014

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October 30, 2014
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C., 20500
Dear Mr. President,
As a national coalition of formerly incarcerated people and their families, we write to urge you to take
leadership on restoring the human rights of formerly incarcerated people. We are grateful for the important
steps you have taken through the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative to address challenges young men of color
encounter following incarceration, and also for the steps taken by the Department of Justice through the
Federal Interagency Reentry Council, whose “chief focus is to remove federal barriers to successful reentry.”1
However, we believe there are additional steps that you and your colleagues in the Administration and Congress
could take to specifically address challenges that affect formerly incarcerated people while seeking employment
and education opportunities.
We want to work with you and your Administration to develop and implement an Executive Order to Ban the
Box at the federal level by limiting consideration of conviction history in federal government employment
decisions and extending these limits to federal contractors by only doing business with those that have
adopted and employ conviction history policies that are consistent with Ban the Box.2 This action would send
a clear signal to employers across the country, both public and private, to evaluate people with criminal records
on their qualifications and merits rather than conviction histories.
In addition, we are prepared to work with your colleagues at the Department of Education and Members of
Congress to restore access to Pell Grants to incarcerated students in state and federal facilities and remove
questions regarding conviction histories from initial college applications, asking for such information only
after an applicant has been given a conditional offer of acceptance. As a result of Ban the Box policies,
employers have begun to focus on skills and talent rather than past convictions. Higher education provides the
tools necessary for incarcerated people and people with conviction histories to build skills and abilities to meet
an employer’s needs.
Currently, the odds of success are stacked against the 70 million people with arrests or convictions in the United
States, particularly for people of color. In its April 2012 guidance, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission recognized the disparate impacts for people of color, especially from black and Latino
communities.3 Black and Latino communities are disproportionately arrested, convicted, and incarcerated. This
is especially the case for federal drug charges though the rate of drug use in black and Latino communities is

Council of State Governments Justice Center. Federal Interagency Reentry Council. (2014). Retrieved from
National Employment Law Project (NELP) offers best practices for model state and local policies that are applicable to the
federal level as well. For more information go to:
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Retrieved from

similar to the rate of drug use in white communities.4 Each year, 688,000 formerly incarcerated people return to
their communities,5 and two-thirds will be rearrested within three years.6
Ban the Box policies reduce recidivism and increase employment opportunities for people with criminal records.
In Hawaii, the odds of recidivism decreased by 57 percent,7 and in Durham, North Carolina, government hiring of
people with arrest and conviction histories increased nearly seven fold, from 2.3 percent to 15.5 percent
between 2011 and the first quarter of 2014 after Ban the Box policies were implemented.8 It is estimated there
are over 2 million federal contract workers in the U.S.9 People with arrest or conviction histories are 50 percent
less likely to receive a call back for entry-level positions when compared to those without arrest or conviction
histories, and outcomes are worst for black applicants. White applicants with a conviction history are more likely
to receive a call back than black applicants without a conviction history.10 Banning the box for federal
contractors ensures Washington continues to lead by example by providing a fair chance for people with
criminal records to access job opportunities paid for using public dollars.
Regarding higher education, a recent study which surveyed 273 colleges, found that two-thirds collected
conviction history information about applicants, less than half the schools that used the information in making
admissions decisions have written policies, and only 40 percent train their staff to interpret the information.11
Federal legislation in 1994 denied Pell Grant funding to incarcerated adults for use in prison college programs.12
Research demonstrates higher education, not only leads to increased employment opportunities, but reduces
recidivism by as much as 43 percent.13 Restoring Pell Grant funding is particularly important to ensure equitable
outcomes for people of color. Students of color face harsher punishments in school than white students. This
leads to higher rates of incarceration. Today, black and Latino youth make up the majority of confined youth,
two-fifths and one-fifth respectively.14
In response, the communities most directly impacted by mass incarceration and over-criminalization have led
the Ban the Box movement, a national movement to increase employment opportunities for people with
criminal records by removing the question regarding conviction history from employment applications. As of

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from
the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of national findings. (2011). Retrieved from
Prison Policy Initiative. Mass Incarceration: The whole pie. (2014). Retrieved from
Bureau of Justice Statistics. Reentry Trends. (2014). Retrieved from
D’Alessio, S. The Effect of Hawaii’s Ban the Box Law on Repeat Offending. (2014). Retrieved from
Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Why #BantheBox Matters: Durhams success story. (2014). Retrieved from
National Employment Law Project. Taking the Low Road: How the Federal Government Promotes Poverty-Wage Jobs
through its Contracting Practices. (2013). Retrieved from
Pager, D. The Mark of a Criminal Record. (2003). Retrieved from
Center for Community Alternatives. The Use of Criminal History Records in College Admissions Reconsidered. (2010).
Retrieved from
Nixon, V. and Pell, D. The Need for Pathways of Opportunity for Convicted Individuals. (2013). Retrieved from
Rand Corporation. Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education. (2013). Retrieved from
The Annie E. Casey Foundation. No Place for Kids. (2011). Retrieved from

today, 13 states and nearly 70 cities have removed questions about conviction histories from their employment
applications. In addition, state legislatures, including New York, are considering legislation that would require
colleges to judge an applicant on academic merit and ask about conviction histories later.
While the above recommendations above represent only several of the many actions needed to bring respect
and dignity to formerly incarcerated persons and their families, they would create an immeasurable change in
the lives of millions of people. We urge the Administration to move forward with these measures in
collaboration with Members of Congress and members of our communities. We look forward to working
together in our fight for the full restoration of human rights for formerly incarcerated people.
All of Us or None
Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE).
Human Rights Defense Center
Justice for Families
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
Nation Inside
Southern Coalition for Social Justice
Voice of the Ex-Offender (V.O.T.E.)
Barbara Fair, My Brother’s Keeper
Mary Heinen, LLMSW, Soros Fellow 2011, McPherson & Heinen Associates, Co-founder of Prison Creative Arts
Project and National Prison Creative Arts Coalition,
Vivian D. Nixon, Executive Director, College and Community Fellowship, Co-founder Education from the Inside
Out Coalition
Center for Community Change Action
Paulette L. Aniskoff, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Public Engagement,
Brian E. Fallon, Director, Office of Public Affairs, Office of the Deputy Attorney General, Department of
Ernesto Archila, Special Assistant, Office of Public Engagement, Office of the Secretary, Department of
Massie Evans Ritsch, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Communications and Outreach, Office of the
Secretary, Department of Education

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr., Secretary, Department of Justice
The Honorable Tom Perez, Secretary, Department of Labor
The Honorable Arne Duncan, Secretary, Department of Education