Good afternoon and thank you so much for having me. I want to begin by thanking U.S. Attorney [Kenyen] Brown and his colleagues for their tireless efforts to strengthen the communities and support the people of the Southern District of Alabama. I want to thank Chief [James] Barber for his outstanding leadership of the Mobile Police Department, which has shown an inspiring commitment to working alongside residents to build a safer and more united Mobile. And I especially want to recognize Clarence Aaron for sharing his experience, for offering his perspective and for using his second chance to advocate for a system of criminal justice that is more effective, more efficient and more fair. I thank you for working towards that second chance, not just for yourself, but for others.
The Department of Justice – and the Obama Administration – is deeply committed to that mission. That’s why the Department of Justice designated this week as National Reentry Week, an Administration-wide effort to draw attention to the many challenges facing the 600,000 people who return home from federal and state prisons each year. By tomorrow – with the help and hard work of our U.S. Attorney’s Offices, our Bureau of Prisons facilities and our partners across the United States – we will have held more than 550 DOJ-sponsored events and over a hundred events sponsored by other federal agencies, from job fairs and reentry court graduations to DMV mobile ID unit “pop-ups” and legal services clinics.
We opened Reentry Week on Monday, when I joined Housing Secretary [Julián] Castro in Philadelphia to announce the recipients of the Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program (JRAP) Grants, which will help young people under the age of 25 to clean their records and step out of the shadow of the past. That same day, I sent a letter to the governor of each state, asking them to allow citizens returning from federal prisons to exchange their federal Bureau of Prisons inmate ID card – and their authenticated release documentation – for a state-issued ID, because in order to truly rejoin society, every individual needs to be the one to tell society who they are. And I also unveiled the Justice Department’s “Roadmap to Reentry” – a blueprint for implementing a number of significant changes to how our Bureau of Prisons, or BOP, prepares inmates for release.
On Wednesday, I was at the White House to honor 10 “Champions of Change” – ordinary citizens doing extraordinary work to facilitate reentry in their communities, from the family-owned bakery that teaches baking skills to reentering individuals, to the Ivy League university that’s reaching out to the inmates at nearby prisons. And today, I’m delighted to be here in Alabama to highlight the work that you are doing to prepare inmates for release and to make sure they have the opportunities to succeed when they return home. This morning, I visited the Federal Correctional Institute in Talladega, where I spoke with staffers and inmates involved in the facility’s impressive job-training and educational initiatives, which are giving people the concrete skills they need to build a brighter future for themselves upon release. More than that, they are helping inmates find the men they were meant to be. And I am proud to have this opportunity now to applaud all of you for your commitment to employing returning citizens. I commend you for doing your part to create a more just and equal nation and I want to thank you for setting such an inspiring example.
The effects of the announcements we’ve made and the programs that we have highlighted over the last few days will reverberate far beyond this single week – but I am pleased to say that they will also be amplified by a number of far-reaching actions that the Administration has taken in recent days. Earlier this month, the White House hosted 19 companies – including American Airlines, Google, Starbucks and the Coca-Cola Company – to launch the Fair Chance Business Pledge. Businesses taking the pledge commit to eliminating unnecessary barriers to employment for applicants with criminal records – just as you are doing.
In addition, just today, the President issued two directives that significantly expand the federal government’s commitment to improving the prospects of justice-involved individuals. The first formally establishes the Federal Interagency Reentry Council as a White House-level initiative. The Reentry Council, which I have been honored to chair over the past year, is a group of 20 federal agencies dedicated to pooling our resources toward innovative and comprehensive approaches to reentry. It is my privilege to continue serving a leadership role on the Reentry Council and I look forward to all that we will accomplish in the months ahead. The second directive requires all federal agencies and departments to take steps toward “banning the box” in their hiring processes. As you all know, “banning the box” means delaying questions about criminal history until a conditional offer of employment has been made. This action –which has become a cornerstone of reentry advocacy across the country – gives applicants with criminal records a fair and meaningful chance to compete for federal jobs.
These are tremendous signs of the progress we’re making. I am extremely proud of the supportive and determined tone that we have set in the last few days and I want to thank my colleagues throughout the Justice Department and across the Obama Administration – as well as our many partners at the state and local levels – for making National Reentry Week such a success. But I also want to make clear that in all of these efforts, we do not and cannot succeed alone.
As we move forward, we will continue to rely – as we always have – on the contributions of engaged and passionate individuals like you: individuals who understand that they have something to give; who realize that they have a stake in creating equal opportunity for all; and who recognize that in our country, real and lasting change begins with a person who dares to stand up and be counted. That is exactly what each of you is doing. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting people like you not only this week, but throughout my time as Attorney General and it is because of those encounters with creative, optimistic and hardworking citizens that I am not just hopeful, but convinced, that we are nearing the day when every American who leaves prison, our brothers and sisters, our fathers our mothers, will truly have an opportunity to come home.
Thank you for your work to bring us closer to that day. Thank you for all that you have already done. Most of all, thank you for your faith in the programs that you support and the people that so many would like to forget. And thank you for the work you have engendered that has made that faith a manifest reality.