Cross-posted on Huffington Post
Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice has taken major steps to make our criminal justice system more fair, more efficient, and more effective at reducing recidivism and helping formerly incarcerated individuals contribute to their communities. An important part of that task is preparing those who have paid their debt to society for substantive opportunities beyond the prison gates, and addressing obstacles to successful reentry that too many returning citizens encounter.
Addressing the challenges that formerly incarcerated individuals experience is a vital and pressing task. Each year, more than 600,000 individuals return to our neighborhoods after serving time in federal and state prisons, and another 11.4 million individuals cycle through local jails. Nearly a quarter of Americans has had some sort of encounter with the criminal justice system – mostly for relatively minor, non-violent offenses, and sometimes from decades in the past. But whether an arrest occurred recently or long ago, individuals with criminal records, and particularly recently-incarcerated individuals, face serious and complex obstacles to successful reentry. The long-term impact of a criminal record prevents many motivated people from obtaining employment, housing, higher education, and credit – and these barriers affect returning individuals even if they have turned their lives around and are unlikely to reoffend. Ultimately, these barriers can contribute to a cycle of incarceration that makes it difficult for even the most well-intentioned individuals to stay on the right path and stay out of the criminal justice system.
At the Department of Justice, supporting successful reentry is an essential part of our mission to promote public safety – because by helping individuals return to productive, law-abiding lives, we can reduce crime across the country and make our neighborhoods better places to live. That’s why we have made more than $400 million in Second Chance Act funds available since 2009 to support comprehensive adult and juvenile reentry services. It’s why we have been working through the Federal Interagency Reentry Council – which I have the privilege of chairing – to reduce policy barriers to successful reentry, opening up opportunities in education, job placement, housing, healthcare, and a host of other areas critical to successful reintegration. And it’s why we are raising awareness of the importance of reentry strategies that both increase public safety and fulfill our nation’s commitment to the promise of individual redemption.
To encourage and highlight this important work, the Justice Department is designating the week of April 24-30, 2016, as National Reentry Week. During this week, we are asking the Bureau of Prisons to coordinate reentry events at their facilities across the country – from job fairs, to practice interviews, to mentorship programs, to events for children of incarcerated parents – designed to help prepare inmates for release. We have also asked each U.S. Attorney’s Office to coordinate reentry events, including meetings between local reentry stakeholders, reentry court proceedings, employer roundtables or other events designed to raise awareness about the importance of reentry work. We are encouraging federal partners and grantees to work closely with stakeholders like federal defenders, legal aid providers, and other partners across the country to increase the impact of this effort. And Justice Department and Administration leadership will travel during National Reentry Week in support of these events.
I am proud of the great strides we have already made and excited about the work still to come. And I am certain that if we work together, we can reduce crime and protect our communities by preparing individuals for success outside prison walls. As we go forward, the Department of Justice will continue to support and advance reentry programs that promote opportunity, bolster public safety, and give formerly incarcerated individuals the full chance they deserve to rejoin our communities and strengthen our nation.