Change in Direction on Drug Sentencing and Employment Screening

Recently Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo to all federal prosecutors informing them to stop seeking leniency for low-level drug offenders and start seeking the toughest penalties possible.  This move indicates a clear position of the new Trump era that drug offenders are to be punished by maximum sentencing instead of the more lenient sentencing occurring during the Obama administration.

This comes as a stark contrast to the recent ban-the-box movement which came into being due to a high level of job applicants not being considered for a position due to checking the “criminal history” box and alleged disparate use of criminal background records.  Due to the disproportionate incarceration rate for Hispanics and African Americans the issue of the “box” became a civil rights issue.  In the last few years the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken steps to “guide” companies regarding the use of criminal background checks as part of pre-employment screening, just as ban-the-box legislation has worked to limit or alter the use of criminal histories in employment vetting.

The Sessions announcement is a complete reversal in direction from recent history which ban-the-box and the EEOC have been working on to help people with a criminal record have a fair chance at gainful employment.  The new Trump policy on cracking down even harder on drug offenders is a complete 180 from the direction the USA was going in terms of criminal justice reform and trying to get previous criminal offenders back into mainstream society with a job and a second chance.

The use of criminal background records in pre-employment background screening remains complicated.  Many different states and cities have severely restricted the use of criminal records as part of the vetting process.

The move by Attorney General Sessions marks a significant change in direction for the federal government.

From NBC News (May 13, 17)

The Trump era of drug enforcement has officially arrived, and it sounds a lot like the old days.

The message came this week in the form of a memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to all federal prosecutors: Stop seeking leniency for low-level drug offenders and start seeking the toughest penalties possible.

That’s what federal authorities used to do, when the war on drugs fueled the passage of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. But under former President Barack Obama, the Justice Department tried to rein in the use of those statutes, which advocates say were used disproportionately against minorities and led to massive prison overcrowding.

This recent move by the administration points to how fast policy and law can change, and should raise an alarm to all hiring managers regarding their current pre-employment background screening programs.

Opposition arose almost immediately in regards to Sessions announcement regarding the administration’s new maximum sentencing agenda against drug offenders and no one more than Michael Collins, deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance.


From (May 12, 17)

“This is a disastrous move that will increase the prison population, exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and do nothing to reduce drug use or increase public safety,” Michael Collins, deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement emailed to NPR. “Sessions is taking the country back to the 1980s by escalating the failed policies of the drug war.”

In the end the move by the current administration plays as a wake-up call for hiring managers insomuch that it highlights change being a constant and the potential for direct change affecting employment background checks could occur very quickly. With the return to maximum sentences for drug offenses there may be a reaction down the road similar to ban-the-box. Ultimately policy will change and a best practice as a hiring manager is working with a well-qualified third-party pre-employment background screening company.

To read more regarding the change in direction for drug sentencing in the USA and arguments for and against it read recent press release.

Speak Your Mind