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Second Chances and Safer Communities

May 24, 2012
The following post appears courtesy of Attorney General Eric Holder. Today, more than two million people across the country – and more than one in 100 American adults – are behind bars.  At some point, 95 percent of these prisoners will be released.  Although once they rejoin their communities we expect these individuals to become productive members of society and to remain crime-free, the reality is that it’s often not that simple. Many formerly incarcerated individuals face a range of challenges when it comes to rebuilding their lives, establishing their independence, and taking advantage of employment and training opportunities.  Research shows that roughly 40 percent of those released return to prison or jail within three years.  In light of these facts – and as part of the Justice Department’s commitment to being smart, as well as tough, on crime – we’ve taken steps to ensure that reentry is a central part of our national public safety strategy, and that our state, local, tribal – and nonprofit – partners have the support they need to identify and implements successful reentry efforts. This week, I had the opportunity to meet with many of these partners – including more than 600 Justice Department grantees – at the “Second Chances and Safer Communities” conference, where reentry leaders from across the nation gathered to learn from one another, exchange best practices, consult with experts, and receive technical assistance with their reentry programs.  Perhaps the most striking feature of our discussion was how broad and inclusive this issue has become.  From jobs and housing, to mentoring, health care, education, and substance abuse treatment, reentry is no longer seen as just a criminal or juvenile justice issue – it touches almost every facet of our society.  And today, it is being advanced by dedicated professionals throughout the Administration, in Congress, and across state, local, and tribal governments. I’m proud to note that the Justice Department, through its Office of Justice Programs, plays a major role in driving these efforts forward.  Under the landmark Second Chance Act (SCA) – which provides authorization for grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations – we’ve supported a wide range of services that are strengthening communities and helping formerly incarcerated individuals to improve their lives. Through SCA-funded programs that are being administered by the department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the National Reentry Resource Center – which is supported by BJA and managed by the Council of State Governments Justice Center – we’re providing state-of-the-art assistance that can benefit states and localities.  We’re leading the government-wide efforts of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, which I am proud to chair – and which brings together partners from 20 federal agencies to enhance this work.  And, through the National Institute of Justice, we’re supporting cutting-edge research to help us better understand the impact of incarceration and the value of effective reentry strategies.  One landmark study – led by Al Blumstein and Kiminora Nakamura – recently found that young people and violent offenders who have remained arrest-free for at least eight years are no more likely to commit a crime than a member of the general public.  For those who are older, or who commit less serious crimes, this point is reached in as little as three or four years.  These findings could have significant implications for the way employers consider criminal records in their hiring decisions.  And, in an effort to address this – and to reduce other collateral consequences faced by those who have paid their societal debt – I’ve asked every state attorney general to review statutes which may pose unnecessary barriers to reentry without impacting public safety, and to remove those barriers whenever possible.  Reentry Council agencies are also performing a similar review at the federal level. At the same time, we’re working to disseminate information about successful programs that have already been evaluated.  Last year, we launched a website called CrimeSolutions.gov that includes descriptions and ratings for a broad range of evidence-based programs, including reentry efforts.  And during this week’s meeting, we launched a new “What Works in Reentry Clearinghouse,” which will help us continue to expand our collective knowledge base. The department also is using all the tools and resources at our disposal to support innovative reentry programs, identify promising practices, and implement effective approaches for strong reentry practices throughout the country.  While there’s much more to be done, we are making meaningful progress.  And, with the continued leadership and cooperation of our federal, state, local, tribal – and even international – partners, I am confident that we can build on this record of achievement.  And I look forward to taking our critical reentry efforts to a new level.

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