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Trump Administration Faces Criticism From Left And Right On Proposed Hiring Rule Change


The Trump administration is facing criticism from criminal justice reform advocates on the left and the right. The controversy involves a proposed change to federal hiring rules that would make all potential hires disclose whether they've gone through pretrial diversion. That's a widespread program that allows offenders to avoid prison time or having a criminal record by doing drug rehab or community service, for example. Critics say this kind of screening would limit access to employment for offenders who are often young or charged with minor crimes, the kinds of people who usually have the option of pretrial diversion.

Justin George is the Washington correspondent for The Marshall Project. It's a nonprofit criminal justice-focused journalism organization that first spotted the proposed rule change. Justin, welcome to the program.

JUSTIN GEORGE: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: So what do we know about the rationale behind the proposal?

GEORGE: Well, that's what's interesting. We're trying to figure that out. OPM, or the Office of Personnel Management, has not really been open about it other than to say that they're trying to close a gap - that's what's written down in the proposal - close an information gap to find out everything about job applicants. They're in the process of trying to speed up their national security clearance process. So it could be that they would like to have diversion and issues like that just out in the open rather than finding out about it later and checking then. But it's still kind of unclear.

CORNISH: What has been the main criticism?

GEORGE: Well, the main criticism is diversion just as - you know, what it is is a process, a court sanctioned process, that is supposed to allow you to do whatever sort of court requirement for whatever crime you may have committed. And then after that, you are free and clear. You do not any longer have that on your record. You can go about your business, go and apply for jobs and not have to put down that that is part of your criminal background.

CORNISH: So the criticism is that forcing people to reveal that they've had some interaction with the law in this way basically undermines that whole process.

GEORGE: Sure. And the federal government would say that there's no guarantee that somebody would be withheld from a job. But, you know, there's a stigma associated with criminal backgrounds. And if you have to disclose that, the worry is that sort of dooms you from the outset or certainly kind of puts you behind other job applicants.

CORNISH: A bipartisan sentencing reform bill was considered a major feat for the Trump administration. Can you give us a better sense of their track record on this issue overall?

GEORGE: Well, that's what's interesting here is you have President Trump who campaigned and came in sort of as a hard-liner, a hard-liner on crime and punishment. But as the months have gone on and as you've seen the influence of his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, whose father served time in a federal prison, you are seeing a different side of the president, one that everybody saw with Kim Kardashian as she advocated for the clemency or the pardon of Alice Johnson, a woman who was in prison for a while. And since then, President Trump has talked about giving people greater second chances. Now, that does butt up against a lot of what his administration is doing. And I think that's what we may be seeing right here.

CORNISH: Given what you've just explained and given the fact that this rules change is only proposed, what do you expect to happen here? I mean, what should we look for?

GEORGE: The White House is certainly being pressured by a lot of criminal justice reform advocates, including the Koch network, which is run by the Koch brothers, who have long been sort of advocates of trying to get more people back to work. That's one part of their sort of reform movement. And they have been bombarding the White House with comments that this needs to be changed. The ACLU and many other advocates are certainly calling for changes here. So there's pressure, but it's unknown whether this is an issue that the president will intervene in.

CORNISH: That's Justin George, Washington correspondent for The Marshall Project. Thank you for speaking with us.

GEORGE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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