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New head of prisons must embrace criminal justice reform

With Michael Carvajal having announced his resignation, President Biden is now hunting for a new Federal Bureau of Prisons director. It is of utmost importance that he appoint someone who understands the importance of criminal justice reform.

Although President Biden discussed the need for changes to the criminal justice system at length on the campaign trail, his administration has yielded few accomplishments in this space over the last year.

The BOP director is responsible for implementing reforms to the justice system and represents one of the president’s key advisors on criminal justice policy. Filling the position with an advocate for reform could represent an inflection point for the administration on this issue.

The importance of the Biden administration keeping its word on this policy objective cannot be overstated. In an age of deep partisan division, criminal justice reform is one issue that bridges the divide because it impacts the families and lives of so many Americans. The continued implementation of First Step Act reforms is hugely important; there is still much work to be done, particularly in the area of “second chance” initiatives.

Nearly one in three American adults has some kind of criminal record. These tens of thousands of Americans are often denied access to employment, education and even housing. Even the lowest level offense can have a lifelong impact because of the many barriers it creates.

Job application studies have found that people with records are 50 percent less likely to be called back for a job offer or interview compared to “otherwise identical applicants with no criminal record.” That is in part why 60 percent of formerly incarcerated people remain unemployed 12 months after their release and formerly incarcerated men earn 40 percent less than their peers.

But the impact of one’s criminal record is more than personal.

2016 report from the Center for Economic Policy Research estimated that the inability of people with a criminal record to enter the workforce brings losses as high as $87 billion to annual gross domestic product. The financial pains of the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant labor shortages associated with it only compound this financial pain for employers.

Nearly half of U.S. children also have at least one parent with a criminal record. Their futures are directly correlated with their parents’ level of education and financial stability. A 2015 study demonstrated the devastating impact a parent’s criminal record can have on their children in terms of economics, education, housing, and overall stability.

For all these reasons and more, it is time to give our fellow Americans who have demonstrated they deserve a second chance an actual legitimate chance at success post-incarceration. The data show that doing so would be both the best ethical choice as well as the most reasonable policy.

It would also reduce crime.

Congress is currently considering bills, such as the Clean Slate Act, that will reduce recidivism by facilitating rehabilitated Americans’ ability to work and engage in productive activities. This bill would expunge the records of certain nonviolent offenders after they have served their time, thus restoring broken families and allowing employers to hire new workers, expand their businesses, and grow the economy. Such reforms enjoy bipartisan support, with 70 percent of Americans, including 66 percent of Republicans, favoring efforts to seal the records of nonviolent offenders.

The Biden administration says it supports these efforts. Now, it just needs to work with Congress to put its rhetoric into action. Installing the right leader at the soon-to-be vacated position at the Federal Bureau of Prisons would represent the right place to start. The fate of millions of Americans is counting on it.

Jason Pye is the director of rule of law initiatives for the Due Process Institute. Follow him on Twitter @pye

Tags American Prison System Clean Slate Criminal justice reform Employment discrimination against persons with criminal records Federal Bureau of Prisons federal prisons Joe Biden Second Chance Act

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