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Attorney General Holder Speaks at the White House Champions of Change Recognition Ceremony


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Piper [Kerman] for those kind words, for sharing your story – with this crowd, in print, and on Netflix – and for helping to bring our discussion about criminal justice reform to the forefront of the public consciousness.  I’d also like to thank Broderick [Johnson] for all that he and his colleagues have done, along with the White House Office of Public Engagement and the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, to bring us together for this important event.  And I want to thank you all for being here today – as we strengthen vital partnerships, advance innovative strategies to make our communities both safer and stronger, and recognize just a few of the remarkable people who are driving these efforts forward: our 16 “Champions of Change,” who have devoted their lives and careers to improving the lives of others.

Their work, in cities and towns throughout the country, illustrates that successful reentry efforts are not merely an essential part of an effective criminal justice agenda.  Sound reentry policy is much more than an economic and budgetary necessity.  It’s also a moral imperative.  After all, at some point, 95 percent of all incarcerated people will be released.  And just as we expect everyone who commits a crime to serve their time and pay their societal debts, we also expect them to remain sober and crime-free upon their release.  We expect them to get jobs and find housing.  And we expect them to become productive taxpayers and law-abiding members of society.

Unfortunately, as you know all too well, these expectations are not always met.  Shockingly high recidivism rates persist across the country.  And the costs of failed reentry – in terms human, economic, and moral – are simply too high to bear.

As a society, we pay a significant price whenever our system fails to deliver outcomes that keep us safe and ensure that those who have paid their debts have the chance to rejoin their communities.  Research has shown that better treatment, community engagement, and expanded access to resources like housing, job training, and employment can result in markedly better futures for many who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Of course, we must never stop being vigilant against crime – and resolute in our determination to combat it.  But, like you, I firmly believe that our country has a broad obligation to support those who work hard to break free of the cycle of poverty, crime, and incarceration.  And that’s why I am personally committed to amplifying, and expanding upon, the outstanding work of the Champions we honor this afternoon.

Nowhere is this commitment more clear than in the Justice Department’s Smart on Crime initiative – which I announced last August – and in the work of our Federal Interagency Reentry Council, which brings together Cabinet members and other leaders from throughout the Obama Administration, and which I am proud to chair.  These groundbreaking efforts are enabling us to tear down unnecessary barriers to opportunity and independence – while building up programs and policies that enable returning individuals to successfully reintegrate into their communities.

As a critical part of this work, through the Department’s National Institute of Justice, we’ve funded the American Bar Association’s effort to create a “National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction.”  This inventory can be searched by state, consequence type, and triggering offense category.  And it is modeled, in part, after the Collateral Consequences Assessment Tool, which was pioneered in North Carolina by one of the Champions we honor today – Daryl Atkinson.

Daryl overcame his own involvement with the criminal justice system and has since worked to build a better future not only for himself – but for countless others who deserve a second chance.  Thanks to the tireless dedication of attorneys and staff at the ABA – and the commitment of people like Daryl – our collateral consequences inventory is now complete.  And it catalogues an astounding 45,000 federal and state statutes and regulations that limit opportunities – seventy-five percent of which are employment-related. 

As we speak, the Department is encouraging states to eliminate the staggering number of legal barriers that do not serve a public safety purpose.  To that end, I’ve asked state attorneys general to reconsider policies that impose overly burdensome obstacles on formerly incarcerated individuals.  At my request, federal agencies have already completed similar reviews – and some are now moving to amend regulations or provide appropriate guidance to mitigate unnecessary and unintended effects.  And within the Justice Department, we’re leading by example – and taking steps to ensure that, whenever any new regulation or guidance is proposed, potential collateral consequences will be taken into account from the very beginning.

Across the board, this work is founded on the recognition that – as the Champions in this room have repeatedly shown – whenever people are given the support and tools to succeed, their lives can be changed for the better.  In particular, as Champion and President of Montgomery College DeRionne Pollard has demonstrated with her trailblazing efforts to increase access to effective education, training, and counseling programs for the adult jail population – and for at-risk juveniles – education is more than just the great equalizer for opportunity.  It can also be a ticket to permanent freedom and a new life for everyone with the will and the courage to seek it.   

Inspired by her efforts and many others, this afternoon, I am pleased to announce that the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance will award nearly $4 million to bolster reentry efforts nationwide – and to help those returning from prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities prepare for jobs in technology and related fields.  This new funding will support six Second Chance technology career training programs, each aimed at allowing returning individuals to obtain the skills they need to compete for positions that are in demand in today’s economy.  These programs will offer certification opportunities in line with local labor markets.  They’ll help to prepare people for careers in green- and renewable-energy technologies.  And they’ll connect community agencies with local universities to provide transitional services, occupational training, and employment readiness for youth returning from confinement.

Now, I believe we can all be proud of the work that’s underway – here in Washington and throughout America – to strengthen our justice system and restore the promise of equal opportunity for all.  I also recognize that, as we carry these efforts into the future, the road to reform – and successful reentry – will not always be easy.  But thanks to the steadfast commitment and the innovative leadership of our Champions of Change – and countless others who share their conviction that this nation’s promise extends to everyone, including those who have made mistakes and face difficult circumstances – there’s no question that we can be confident in where our collective efforts will take us from here.

So I want to thank you all, once again, for your exemplary work.  I am encouraged by the efforts you’re leading.  I am inspired by your examples and proud to stand alongside you.  And now, I invite you all to join me in recognizing our 2014 Champions of Change – whom it’s my privilege to introduce at this time:

·          Marianne Ali from Bowie, Maryland – Director of DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training Program, which empowers unemployed men and women throughout the Washington metropolitan area.

·          Sherriff Michael J. Ashe Jr. from Longmeadow, Massachusetts – a 40-year public servant; Sheriff of Hampden County, Massachusetts; and Chief Administrator of the Hampden County Correctional Center.

·          Scott Budnick from Los Angeles, California – Executive Vice President of the Green Hat Films production company and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

·          Eva Garza Dewaelsche from Detroit, Michigan – President and CEO of SER Metro-Detroit Jobs for Progress, Inc., a workforce development organization.

·          Daryl Legg from Sallisaw Oklahoma – Director of Vocational Programs for the Cherokee Nation, which includes the Cherokee Nation Re-Entry Program, “Coming Home.”

·          DeRionne Pollard from Clarksburg, Maryland – President of Montgomery College and champion of access to effective education, training, and counseling programs to the adult incarcerated population and at-risk juveniles.

·          Stanley Richards from the Bronx, New York – Senior Vice President at the Fortune Society, a non-profit organization with a mission to support successful reentry from prison and to promote alternatives to incarceration. 

·          Jill Rizika from Cleveland, Ohio – Director of Toward Employment, a non-profit organization that has helped address the employment needs of individuals with criminal backgrounds.

·          Daryl Atkinson from Garner, North Carolina – an attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, focusing on criminal justice reform issues, and a founding member of the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance.

·          Father Gregory Boyle from Los Angeles, California – Founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and reentry program in the United States, which is now in its 25th year. 

·          Donna and Frank Masley from Wilmington, Delaware – co-owners of Masley Gloves, a small business that designs and manufactures specialty gloves – including gloves for the Military – which has hired over 60 individuals who were previously incarcerated.

·          Tyrone Mullins from San Francisco, California – co-founder of Green Streets, an integrated waste management business developed and operated by public housing residents and their peers.

·          Pamela Paulk from Baltimore, Maryland – Senior Vice President for Human Resources for Johns Hopkins Medicine and a steadfast, long-term advocate for employing candidates who have faced barriers to employment, especially those with criminal backgrounds.

·          Tracey Syphax from Trenton, New Jersey – President and Chief Operating Officer of Phax Group Construction & Design LLC, a Partner with Phax Group, LLC, and author of the memoir, From the Block to the Boardroom, which details his story of successful reentry.

·          And finally, Samuel White from Mechanicsville, Virginia – Executive Vice President of Business Development for Point Blank Enterprise, a Bureau of Prisons contractor and active employer of formerly incarcerated individuals.

Ladies and gentlemen – our 2014 Champions of Change.

Updated August 18, 2015