Yesterday, I had the privilege of presiding over the fourth meeting of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, a government-wide body that has worked – since I convened its first meeting in 2011 – to make communities both safer and stronger by reducing recidivism and addressing related issues. Through this initiative, representatives of 20 federal agencies are helping people returning from prison rejoin their communities and become productive, law-abiding citizens. We are working to save taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and indirect costs of incarceration. And, our work is already yielding promising results.
The discussions that unfolded at yesterday’s meeting reflect not only the firm commitment that each of our agency partners has made to the council’s comprehensive efforts, but also the significant progress we’ve set in motion to support innovative reentry programs across the country. For example, we heard from Secretary Eric Shinseki about the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) pilot effort to electronically identify inmates who have a history of military service. Because not all inmates report their military service, the VA assigns outreach specialists to communicate directly with them and let them know about programs for which they are eligible. Over the past year, the VA has also distributed a short video, “Suits: Support for Incarcerated Veterans,” to encourage veterans who have become involved with our criminal justice system to focus on the reentry planning process. The video and a training module for correctional staff have already been received by 1,150 state and federal prisons, and more than 500 local jails. In addition, Education Secretary Arne Duncan introduced the council to a new reentry education model, which offers evidence-based approaches to help people leaving prison to successfully transition back into their communities through education and workforce training. The Department of Education is working closely with the Justice Department, to test this new model, and to implement pilot projects in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Kansas. Next week, officials from the Department of Education and the Ford Foundation will convene a day-long summit to discuss and advance their efforts to improve educational access in both adult and juvenile correctional facilities, in order to help ensure that these populations are better prepared to successfully reenter their communities. Beyond these efforts, participants in yesterday’s meeting also discussed a host of other issues – including priority efforts related to health care, employment, housing, children of incarcerated parents and reentry in tribal lands. We reflected on the significant steps forward that this council has helped to make possible. And we reaffirmed our shared commitment to fulfilling its important mission and improving reentry outcomes. Although meeting our shared goals and addressing seemingly-intractable criminal justice challenges will never be easy, thanks to the work of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, I believe there is good reason for confidence in our ability to build on the promising work that’s underway – and to realize our common vision of safe, thriving communities. In addition to Secretaries Duncan and Shinseki, attending yesterday’s meeting were Office of National Drug Control Policy Director R. Gil Kerlikowske, Department of Labor Acting Secretary Seth Harris and White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz. Participants also included senior officials from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Interior, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Personnel Management, White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Trade Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. For more information about the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, please visit: www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org/reentry-council. For more information on the VA program, please visit: www.va.gov. For additional resources available through the Education Department’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s Take Charge of Your Future, please visit www.ed.gov.