Justice Department Announces First-Ever Second Chance Fellow to Help Advance Vital Diversion and Reentry Strategies
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Secretary [Arne] Duncan, for that kind introduction – and for your outstanding leadership in our efforts to advance education and improve the lives of students throughout the United States. It’s a pleasure to be here today and a privilege to join you, Cabinet Secretary [Broderick] Johnson, members of Congress, Dallas Pell, extraordinary advocates and role models like Glenn Martin and Vivian Nixon and our other distinguished guests to announce this important pilot program and to discuss the vital steps we are taking together to reorient our nation’s approach to criminal justice while strengthening our country and empowering our communities.
This is an exciting moment in our ongoing, bipartisan work to reform this nation’s criminal justice system. As Secretary Duncan has noted, postsecondary education provides individuals from all backgrounds and circumstances with the opportunity to better themselves and their communities. For incarcerated individuals, education can provide an avenue to redemption and a chance to earn their way back into mainstream society. It can allow individuals to see themselves as more than their worst decision and encourage them to value themselves for what they can achieve. And the results can deliver significant benefits for communities and taxpayers already burdened by the high costs associated with incarceration and crime.
We know from research that incarcerated individuals who participate in correctional education – including remedial, vocational and postsecondary programs – are more likely to stay out of prison; more likely to seek, gain and maintain employment; and substantially more likely to remain crime-free. We recognize that our communities are safer and more secure when those who have engaged with our criminal justice system are involved in positive behavior. And given that the vast majority of people behind bars will one day be released – with more than 600,000 individuals leaving state and federal institutions every year – we believe that it is incumbent upon us as a nation to ensure that people who have served their time are able to fully and productively engage in our society.
Lifting the ban on Pell Grants for a limited number of incarcerated students to pursue higher education is an important step forward as we seek to build avenues of opportunity from imprisonment to improvement. I am pleased to announce that the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance will provide technical assistance through the Vera Institute of Justice to correctional facilities that partner with institutions of higher learning to provide postsecondary education under the Pell Experimental Site. And I am looking forward to continued partnership on this important work.
The issues we are addressing today are not new – and I am proud to say that they have been a central focus of the Department of Justice throughout the Obama Administration. Under the outstanding leadership of my predecessor, Attorney General Eric Holder and with Secretary Duncan’s invaluable support, we convened the Federal Interagency Reentry Council in 2011 to reduce barriers to successful reentry for formerly incarcerated individuals. We directed every U.S. Attorney to designate a Prevention and Reentry Coordinator in his or her district to focus on building community engagement and creating positive outcomes. We asked our law enforcement partners and state Attorneys General to reconsider policies that create overly burdensome collateral consequences – often in the form of barriers to employment, housing and education – that are unlikely to improve public safety. Earlier this week, I chaired a productive meeting of the Reentry Council and introduced the first-ever Second Chance Fellow. And we are currently working to implement and advance the Smart on Crime initiative that Attorney General Holder launched in 2013 to reduce this country’s reliance on incarceration; to increase investment in diversion and reentry programs; and to ensure that our criminal justice practices are carried out in a way that is both effective and fair.
Today’s action is not the end of our effort. We have a great deal more to do in order to ensure that incarcerated individuals receive opportunities to turn their lives around. But with the partnership of the advocates and public servants joining us today and the hard work of individuals seeking to chart a new course – for themselves, their families and their communities – I am confident about where our work will take us from here. I am excited about the progress we will achieve together. And I am hopeful that today’s announcement will be the beginning of a new era for dedicated students around the country.
At this time, I’d like to hand things over to Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson, who will provide further information on today’s announcement.
Justice Blog: Second Chances Vital to Criminal Justice Reform