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Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Department of Labor’s Roundtable Discussion on the Job Market


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Secretary [Hilda] Solis.  It is a privilege to join with you – and with Dr. [Gabriela] Lemus, EEOC Chair [Jackie] Berrien, and so many dedicated partners – as we discuss the work that’s at the core of this agency’s mission: expanding employment opportunities for all Americans. 

I want to thank the Department of Labor for hosting this important meeting – and for bringing this group of experts, advocates, policymakers, and practitioners together.  Thank you all for taking the time to be here – and for lending your voices to a critical, nationwide conversation. 

With your unique insights, and your ongoing engagement, I have no doubt that we can move forward in meeting the goals that we all share: improving public safety; saving precious taxpayer dollars; and ensuring that the millions of Americans who have served their time – and are struggling to rejoin their communities – are able to become productive members of society, to contribute their skills and training to our workforce, to provide for themselves and their families, and to remain crime-free.

This work is a priority for the Administration.  And it has never been more urgent.  Today, more than 2 million people – 1 in 100 American adults – are incarcerated.  On any given day, nearly 1 in 30 children has a parent behind bars – and the rates are significantly higher for African-American and Hispanic kids.  At some point, 95 percent of all prisoners are released.  And, as Secretary Solis just mentioned, the majority of them are rearrested – and about half are reincarcerated. 

This affects every community.  And it’s why addressing reentry issues – and advancing successful reentry strategies – is, and must continue to be, our shared concern.

Especially today – when many Americans are struggling to find jobs – we must recognize, raise awareness about, and respond to the additional obstacles that millions among us are facing.  We know that having a job remains central to successfully reentry.  Yet, very often, those who’ve paid their debts to society – including many who’ve worked to learn a trade or to earn a degree, and are hoping to get back on their feet – find themselves at the back of the line for employment.

We must use every tool at our disposal to tear down unnecessary barriers to economic opportunities and independence.  And we must seek out innovative, collaborative ways to improve reentry policies and strategies.

The good news is that – despite the scope of this challenge and the seriousness of today’s budget limitations – we are heading in the right direction.  And the Department of Justice is committed to building on the progress that’s been made in recent months.

As many of you know, last year, the Department awarded almost $100 million under the Second Chance Act to support substance abuse treatment, employment assistance, housing, and mentoring programs, as well as other reentry services.  In total, we now support some 250 reentry programs – chosen from more than 1,000 applicants last year alone – and have launched rigorous evaluations to measure their effectiveness, so that we can replicate what works.

Although we’re only eighteen months into the implementation of these programs, preliminary data indicates that, already, many are showing extraordinary promise.  This morning, I am pleased to report that – to date – 65 of our mentor grantees have partnered with employment service providers to connect more than 1,700 people with job services.

Nearly a thousand individuals have participated in Second Chance employment services provided by our demonstration grantees.  And so far, 75 percent of them have been able to get jobs. 75 percent.

Now, these programs remain relatively new, and our evaluations are ongoing.  But, in light of such encouraging preliminary results, I believe it’s imperative that, in the coming months, we pledge to work closely with one another – and with our friends in Congress – to secure the timely reauthorization of the Second Chance Act, which was introduced yesterday by Senators Leahy and Portman.  This will allow us to continue to develop, and to build upon, the crucial progress that we’re starting to see in communities nationwide.

But we must also recognize that money alone will not solve the problem we’ve gathered to address.  That’s why, at the beginning of this year, I was pleased to chair the first meeting of the Interagency Reentry Council.  This Administration-wide initiative is comprised of 7 Cabinet Members, including Secretary Solis, as well as top officials from no fewer than 18 federal agencies. 

It’s allowing us to leverage expertise and resources more easily – and to more effectively share information with state and local partners – as well as with potential employers.  For example, through the “MythBusters” section on the Reentry Council’s website – which Secretary Solis just mentioned – we are working to arm businesses leaders with accurate information, and to correct widespread misunderstandings about hiring those who’ve transitioned out of jails and prisons.

Today, I’m pleased to announce the release of another valuable information resource.  Through our Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Justice Department has supported the development of two new toolkits aimed at setting the record straight on the common myths that people with criminal records are automatically barred from employment – and that reentry housing facilities negatively impact our neighborhoods.  These toolkits, which were created by the Fortune Society and John Jay College, include a revealing case study – that you’ll hear more about later today – and provide practical guidance for reentry agencies, and information for employers aiming to develop a competent, culturally diverse workforce that maximizes the talents of their entire community.

I’m glad that Jeremy Travis and Glenn Martin are here to tell you more about this work.  Although I’m sorry that I can’t join you for the rest of this morning’s discussion, several of my colleagues will be participating and reporting back to me. 

And I assure you all that the Department of Justice, as well as the Department of Labor, will continue to engage in – and to play a leadership role in advancing – our ongoing, national conversation about reentry issues.

Already – with the help of leaders in and beyond this room – we have begun to build a stronger, and smarter, criminal justice system.  And I am confident that – by strengthening our partnerships – we can succeed in making federal reentry policy and employment service programs both fairer and more effective.

I am grateful for your commitment to these efforts – and I look forward to working with you all.

Updated August 18, 2015