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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

FACT SHEET: State of the Union: Cabinet in Your Community -- Department of Justice

In the days immediately following the State of the Union, Cabinet officials are embarking on the “State of the Union: Cabinet In Your Community” road tour to engage Americans in small towns, big cities and Indian country about the advancements the Administration has made on the most important issues facing the American people, as well as the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. The President will make clear in his State of the Union address that the true test is not the challenges we face, but how we approach those challenges. That’s why he and his Cabinet will keep their feet on the gas in this final stretch to continue driving toward solutions that will move this country forward for generations to come, while highlighting the progress that has been made over the past seven years.


The Department of Justice has taken major steps during the Obama Administration to make our criminal justice system more just, fair, and effective at reducing recidivism and promoting successful reintegration into society.  Our ultimate aim has been to break the cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration that grips too many of our communities, and to ensure that each component of our justice system is more closely aligned with our fundamental belief in opportunity and justice for all.  A vital part of that task involves examining what happens to our fellow Americans when they exit prison and return to our communities, and addressing the obstacles to successful reentry is a top priority for the Justice Department and the Obama Administration. 

More than 600,000 individuals are released from federal and state prisons each year, and 11.4 million cycle through local jails annually.  In addition, a broader population – some one in four Americans – has an arrest record, mostly for relatively minor, non-violent offenses, sometimes from decades in the past.  The long-term-- sometimes lifelong-- impact of a criminal record keeps many people from obtaining employment and accessing housing, higher education, loans, and credit – even if they have paid their debt to society, turned their lives around, are qualified, and are unlikely to reoffend.  At the same time, research shows that people who stay out of trouble for just a few years are largely indistinguishable from the general population in terms of their odds of another arrest. 

The Justice Department is committed to breaking the cycle of incarceration and improving reentry outcomes by reducing barriers to education, employment, housing and civic engagement, and by instituting various reforms at the federal Bureau of Prisons that are designed to improve the reentry success of those returning from incarceration in federal prisons. 

Today, following President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union, Attorney General Lynch traveled to Boston, Massachusetts to speak with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, corrections and law enforcement partners, and service providers.  She is visiting the Boston Reentry Initiative – a program proven to reduce recidivism – and other innovative programs that prepare people for their return to the community.  The Justice Department’s first-ever Second Chance Fellow, Daryl Atkinson, is accompanying the Attorney General and participating in a roundtable at the South Bay House of Correction in Suffolk County, MA.  The visit highlights the Department’s committed actions on this issue, including the following recent and ongoing efforts:

  • The Federal Interagency Reentry Council, chaired by Attorney General Lynch, brings together the efforts of more than 20 federal agencies to reduce recidivism and improve employment, education, housing, health, and child welfare outcomes.Recent policy actions championed by the Reentry Council include “banning the box” in federal employment to delay inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued guidance to reduce barriers to HUD-assisted housing, and the Department of Education launched a Second Chance Pell initiative, providing a limited waiver of the statutory ban to help pay for postsecondary education and training programs.  And the Departments of Labor and Justice are establishing a National Clean Slate Clearinghouse that will provide local jurisdictions technical assistance to help with record-cleaning and expungement.

  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons embraces a corrections philosophy that “reentry begins on day one.”Accordingly, the Bureau has made significant strides to better prepare inmates for successful reentry while they are still incarcerated.Under the Obama Administration, the Bureau created the Reentry Services Division, which has expanded mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, improved work and educational opportunities inside prison, and better equipped inmates with the tools necessary for success outside the prison walls.Recognizing that education reduces the risk of recidivism, the Bureau has also launched a comprehensive assessment of its education program and identified opportunities for improvement across its 122 correctional institutions.  This focused evaluation will increase the Bureau’s capacity to provide high quality education services to inmates with special learning and literacy needs.  To date, these ongoing efforts have enabled the Bureau to more effectively identify and serve inmates between the ages of 18 and 21 who require learning accommodations to successfully engage in education programming, and to pilot a specialized curriculum using education technology for individuals requiring instruction at grade levels Pre-K through 5.

  • The Justice Department is encouraged by, and strongly supportive of, the bipartisan efforts in Congress

These efforts build on achievements by the Justice Department under the leadership of President Obama:

  • Since 2009, the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs has made close to 750 Second Chance Act grants totaling more than $400 million.These grants are being used for the full range of reentry assistance, focusing on populations at moderate and high risk of recidivism.The programs offer a range of resources and support, including substance abuse and mental health treatment; job training; expansion of services to children of incarcerated parents; and help to secure driver’s licenses, modify child support orders, and expunge criminal and juvenile records.They also support states designing recidivism reduction strategies as well as new interagency reentry grants to expand access to education for juveniles, permanent supportive housing for those at risk of homelessness, and records expungement for youth in public housing.In addition, Second Chance funds support the National Reentry Resource Center, a one-stop resource for reentry-related research, best practices, and technical assistance managed by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

  • The Department is committed to strengthening and supporting Federal Prison Industries (FPI or trade name UNICOR).Founded in 1934, FPI is a voluntary industrial work program that provides federal inmates with work experience, job training, and life skills, thereby increasing the likelihood they will find meaningful employment upon release and become productive citizens.FPI is the Bureau’s largest and most effective reentry program, employing over 12,000 inmates nationwide.Research has shown that participating inmates are 24 percent less likely to be rearrested or returned to custody.As a result of new authorities granted to FPI in 2012, FPI launched approximately 45 new repatriation projects and employed more than 1,000 inmates who manufacture items that would otherwise be made outside of the United States.In 2016, FPI will welcome a new Chief Executive Officer who will oversee further expansion of this critical recidivism-reducing program.

For more information, please visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/sotu.

Updated January 13, 2016