The Trump administration is quietly making it harder for some people to apply for federal jobs

The president has tried to brand himself a criminal justice reformer. He supported and signed the FIRST STEP Act, commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson after a highly-publicized campaign by Kim Kardashian West and recently marked Second Chance Month with a celebration at the White House.

But the president has also nominated two attorneys general who are ardent supporters of mass incarceration and has made comments and pushed policies that are more reminiscent of his Central Park Five stance than his newfound reformer image.  Now, behind the scenes, the White House is moving to change the rules for federal hiring by discriminating against anyone who has come into contact with the justice system.

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In 2016, the Obama administration brought the federal government into alignment with cities and states across the country that banned the box on job applications, meaning that a job applicant no longer needed to answer the dreaded question, “have you ever been convicted of a crime?” when filling out an initial application for a federal job.

Today, the Trump administration is looking to not only ask people about their conviction histories, but also about their participation in diversion programs. Diversion programs are specifically established, often at the state and local level, so that people who are accused of minor transgressions like petty theft or simple drug possession can have an off-ramp out of the justice system.

Successful completion of a diversion program means the person does not have a criminal conviction on their record, and therefore will not be burdened by the more than 40,000 laws and statutes that accompany a conviction and keep people from obtaining employment, education, or housing. With more than 70 million adults having a record, policymakers should be working to shrink the criminal justice system and the associated collateral consequences that impact families, communities, and the economy.

This misguided move pushes back the starting line in the fight to end discrimination against those who have been justice-involved.

Perhaps worst of all, as one of the nation’s largest employers, the federal government’s change could set a dangerous precedent for other employers to follow. Requiring federal job applicants to reveal their participation in programs that were developed to prevent stigmatization is a change that’s out-of-step with criminal justice research and out-of-step with the American public.

In recent years, there has been a bipartisan acknowledgement that over-criminalization has brought far too many people into contact with the criminal justice system and with 1 in 2 adults in the United States having a family member in jail or prison, hurt far too many families and imposed lifelong collateral consequences that are punitive and counterproductive.

By requiring job applicants to divulge their participation in diversion programs, the Trump administration has chosen to inflate a bloated system, undermine the purpose of criminal justice reform efforts, and override the intent of cities, states, and courts who’ve developed and implemented successful — though modest — models to reduce the criminal justice system’s footprint. 

This unprecedented move should raise red flags for those that care about freedom, justice, and limited government.   

The only way to stop this rule from going into effect is to send the administration a clear message that their proposed changes to federal hiring are regressive, unacceptable, and will hurt families and communities across America.

The public has until April 23rd to submit public comments to the Office of Personnel Management and stop this change. The administration is not above accountability — especially from the American people. We have stopped the administration from implementing other dangerous rule changes, and we have the power to do so again.

Brent J. Cohen is the executive director of Generation Progress, the youth-engagement arm of the Center for American Progress.