President Trump hosted several former prison inmates at the White House Monday evening to share their stories of redemption and encourage employers to hire more people with criminal records.
At a ceremony in the East Room, Mr. Trump welcomed people who benefited from the First Step Act that the president signed into law in December. The measure grants early release to some inmates serving long sentences for nonviolent offenses such as drug charges.
One of them, Gregory Allen, exulted to the audience: “Two months ago, I was in a prison cell. Now I’m in the White House. That’s going to continue to Make America Great Again!”
He was released from prison after serving eight years of a 20-year term.
April Johnson, 40, broke into tears as she talked about being able to spend time with her daughter, who is suffering from terminal cancer, and her daughter’s two sons.
And Catherine Toney, 55, was hired by Walmart after White House adviser Jared Kushner called the retailer on her behalf. She was the first woman freed under the new law after serving 16 years in prison for a crack cocaine offense.
“The First Step Act needs to be fully implemented and needs to be fully funded in order to make this step work,” she told the crowd.
The president said more than 500 people have been released from prison under the new law. And Mr. Trump said he now wants to turn Washington’s attention to “second step” legislation that would encourage more employers to hire job applicants with criminal records.
“Those with criminal records still face many barriers toward gainful employment,” Mr. Trump said. “Americans with criminal records are unemployed at rates up to five times the national average. Our goal is to cut the rate to single digits in five years.”
Inmates to Entrepreneurs founder Brian Hamilton, who attended the White House event, said he’s optimistic.
“There seems to be a national consciousness growing, whether you’re Democrat or Republican, that people [former inmates] have to be helped,” he said. “It benefits all of us.”
But he said he’s concerned that too many employers rely on quick Google searches to learn of a job applicant’s background and rule out anyone with even a minor criminal record.
“The thing that blocks most people from getting a job now is social media,” Mr. Hamilton said in an interview. “Even if you have a shoplifting charge on you that’s five, six years old, that comes up in your Google search results. That’s the dead cat in the room. It’s a huge issue.”
The president said the First Step Act demonstrates the nation’s willingness to offer redemption.
“As president, I pledged to work with both parties for the good of the whole nation,” Mr. Trump said. “Slowly but surely, it’s all happening.”