Change in Direction on Drug Sentencing

A recent move by Attorney General Sessions denotes a significant change in direction for the federal government in regards to sentencing of drug offenders.  The Attorney General reinforced the need for prosecutors to seek maximum sentences on drug offenders and such a move could alter the use of criminal histories in the employment screening arena.  However, many oppose this initiative and believe it is a step in the wrong direction as it would bring back the failed drug war policies of the 1980’s.  Additionally according to the site quoting Michael Collin, deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance stated that “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”.

It appears that the Trump agenda is to crack down hard on drug offenders which is a big difference than the more lenient Obama era’s approach which moved away from previous statutes with mandatory minimum sentencing laws.  The Obama administration took this approach as advocates say those strict drug offense statutes were used disproportionally against minorities and led to massive overcrowding of prisons.

It is clear how quickly change can occur when a new administration takes over the Executive Branch of the government.  If the Judicial Branch starts handing down maximum drug sentences than this could affect pre-employment background screening as low level offenders which may have been previously acceptable to employers now may not be with the same type of candidates with maximum sentences showing up on their rap sheet.

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 to work with a well-qualified third-party pre-employment background screening company.

Anyhow, the recent move by the Attorney General should at least cause employers to review and possibly revise their employment screening policies, especially their rejectionable offense lists to determine whether a low level drug offense could or should be grounds for rejection.

To read more about this subject read recent press release found here.

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