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Second Chances and Safer Communities

November 4, 2015

Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason, Office of Justice Programs

President Obama has said, “At its heart, America is a nation of second chances.”  His visit to a Newark, New Jersey residential drug treatment center and his conversation with its clients on Monday highlighted his commitment to helping those who have paid their debt to society return to their communities ready to make a contribution.

The Department of Justice is proud to help lead the Administration’s reentry efforts.  The Federal Interagency Reentry Council, chaired by Attorney General Lynch and joined by the heads of 23 federal agencies, is working to remove barriers to successful reentry and reduce the collateral consequences of incarceration.  The Office of Justice Programs recently awarded $53 million under the Second Chance Act to support local adult and juvenile reentry programs across the country, adding to the hundreds of communities already receiving Second Chance Act funding from our Bureau of Justice Assistance and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Effective reentry is not just a by-product of public safety, it is integral to it.  Almost all incarcerated persons – 95 percent of them – will return to their communities.  It is critical that they come out of correctional facilities equipped to lead productive, crime-free lives.  Their success and our safety are intertwined.

Many states are recognizing the close connection between reintegration and community safety and have been working diligently, across disciplines and with hands across the political aisle, to keep people from coming back into the criminal justice system.  Through our Justice Reinvestment Initiative, the Bureau of Justice Assistance – in partnership with the Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments Justice Center – has invested in the efforts of 29 states to overhaul their corrections and criminal justice policies and refocus resources on community supervision and other diversion alternatives.  As a result, they are driving down their prisoner populations, lowering recidivism, and saving money, showing that it is possible both to cut incarceration rates and reduce crime.

For instance, North Carolina has closed 10 prisons and used some of the savings to add 175 probation and parole officers and invest in intervention and treatment programs.  Now, a substantially greater number of people with felony convictions are exiting prison to supervision – rather than straight to the street – and the number of people on probation revoked to prison has fallen by half since the law was passed.  At the same time, the state has experienced an 11percent drop in the crime rate. In Pennsylvania, a law enacted three years ago based on a Justice Reinvestment analysis has helped to send the prison population down by more than 700 individuals, and the three-year return-to-prison rate has dropped seven percent.  Meanwhile, the state is reinvesting some of its savings in strengthening victim services, expanding the use of risk assessment tools, building capacity in local probation departments, and supporting data-driven crime prevention efforts.

Our investments – including those through the Second Chance Act and the Justice Reinvestment Initiative – are paying substantial dividends, both by enabling formerly incarcerated persons to make a fresh start and, even more importantly, by improving the safety of the neighborhoods to which they return.  By building on this momentum – providing a second chance to those who have earned it and making our justice system smarter and more fair – we are offering the possibility of redemption to individuals and a safer, stronger future to our communities.

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Updated March 3, 2017