Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch Delivers Remarks at National Reentry Week Event in Philadelphia
Attorney General Lynch Releases Roadmap to Reentry: The Justice Department’s Vision to Reduce Recidivism through Federal Reentry Reforms
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good afternoon, everyone. I want to begin by thanking Kelvin Jeremiah of the Philadelphia Housing Authority for welcoming us to Raymond Rosen Manor and for his longstanding commitment to providing safe and affordable housing to thousands of Philadelphians. I want to salute one of our grantees, Community Legal Services, which works so hard to help Philadelphians with criminal histories to get back on the right track. Earlier today, CLS organized a tremendous roundtable for us. It was an invaluable opportunity to hear from men and women working to start over after becoming involved with the justice system and their stories offered a powerful reminder that even for those who have long been on the right track, a criminal history can make it enormously difficult to turn the page. I want to thank the men and women who participated in the roundtable and I commend their inspiring resilience. I also want to thank the many dedicated public servants who have joined us today – including U.S. Attorney [Zane] Memeger and his office for their outstanding efforts to improve reentry outcomes here in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania’s Eastern District. And I want to thank Secretary [Julián] Castro for his invaluable partnership and his tireless dedication to our shared work of building stronger and safer communities for all.
As you know, a crucial aspect of that work is ensuring that individuals who have spent time in prison have a meaningful opportunity to truly return home and rebuild their lives. Too often, Americans who have paid their debt to society leave prison only to find that they continue to be punished for past mistakes. They might discover that they are ineligible for student loans, putting an education out of reach. They might struggle to get a driver’s license, making employment difficult to find and sustain. Landlords might deny them housing because of their criminal records – an unfortunately common practice. They might even find that they are not allowed to vote based on misguided state laws that prevent returning citizens from taking part in civic life. My friend Bryan Stevenson often says, “All of us are more than the worst thing we have ever done.” But too often, the way that our society treats Americans who have come into contact with the criminal justice system sends the opposite message – and turns too many terms of incarceration into what is effectively a life sentence.
Our failure to provide opportunities to reentering individuals represents an enormous waste of human potential. But it is also a betrayal of the principles of equality and opportunity that make this country strong, principles that our founders wrote into law just a few miles from here at Independence Hall and that generations of Americans have fought to defend and expand. Today, we are responsible for safeguarding those rights and that’s why the Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development – and the entire Obama Administration – have made improving reentry a top priority. I am proud to be here to help unveil the Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program, or JRAP, grants that Secretary Castro announced, which will help young people under the age of 25 to clean their records and gain a true second chance. JRAP is a direct response to recommendations made by the President’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force and it is just one of the many great ideas that have arisen in part from the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, or LAIR, which brings together 21 federal agencies in an effort to identify and enhance legal aid opportunities, including for reentering individuals. I have the privilege of co-chairing LAIR, which is staffed by the department’s Office for Access to Justice and it is deeply gratifying to see such a vibrant cross-agency effort result in impactful programs like these grants. By investing in the future of our young people, we are investing in the future of our nation and I look forward to continuing our work with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and our state and local partners in the months ahead. I want to take a moment to recognize Bob Listenbee – the Administrator of DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention – for developing and funding this program. Bob’s vision comes from first-hand experience, rooted right here in Philadelphia, where his office processed hundreds of youth expungement petitions each year during his tenure as Chief of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. He has been a champion of this work and I thank him.
Of course, we know that it isn’t only young people who need our assistance. It’s every mother who wants to come back equipped to help provide for her family. It’s every father who wants to return as a role model for his kids. It is every friend and neighbor who went down the wrong path, but is determined to give back to their neighborhood, to contribute to their community and to be more than their worst mistake.
I believe that we owe every individual that chance. That’s why I’m very proud that the Justice Department designated this week as the first ever National Reentry Week. During this inaugural observance, components throughout the department – and agencies across the Obama Administration – will be working to draw attention to this vital issue. I’ve asked U.S. Attorneys to help coordinate reentry events in their districts this week. I’ve asked all wardens at the Federal Bureau of Prisons to hold reentry events at their facilities in every state. And I’ve invited our colleagues and partners in other cabinet agencies to shine a light on the great work that they’re doing in this field, from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ work with justice-involved veterans to the efforts underway at HUD that Secretary Castro just spoke about. This is truly a whole-administration effort and I want to thank all of the dedicated professionals at our partner agencies who have helped make National Reentry Week possible.
In total, we are holding over 500 events nationwide, all promoting the importance of reentry. These include job fairs and reentry court graduations; DMV mobile unit ID “pop-ups” and legal service clinics; family events and community resource open houses. Justice Department officials – and our colleagues from across the executive branch – will continue to highlight our efforts around the country, underscoring the Obama Administration’s commitment to expanding the horizons of those Americans preparing to leave prison. And, on Wednesday, the White House will be celebrating new Champions of Change – leaders who have helped justice-involved individuals overcome barriers to employment. Of course, we don’t intend to stop there. Reentry is not just a “one day” or “one week” idea – it is something that demands sustained commitment over time and that must be a part of our core corrections and rehabilitation mission.
Today, I am also proud to announce that the Department of Justice is releasing “The Roadmap to Reentry” – a major reform package that lays out a number of significant changes to how our Bureau of Prisons, or BOP, prepares inmates for release, from their first day of incarceration to their first months of freedom. This effort builds on the long-standing leadership of BOP administrators, staff and corrections officers alike in reentry programming. I want to take this opportunity to thank BOP for their hard work and dedication in this area – both over the years and in providing invaluable support these new initiatives. A number of these changes are already well underway. Among many other initiatives, the Roadmap describes BOP’s plan to review and enhance its evidence-based tools that assess the rehabilitation needs of each inmate, so that we can get a clear picture of how best to prepare every individual for success. It outlines how BOP is working to strengthen job training opportunities through programs like Federal Prison Industries, so that we can release individuals who are job-ready on Day One. It details new efforts to revamp education programs, so that motivated individuals can learn and grow. And it highlights BOP’s work to design and deploy standardized reentry resources, which will offer detailed instructions, services and advice to all federal inmates preparing for release. Let’s be clear: no significant change is quick or easy. Many of these reforms will take time to execute – but careful, focused investment now will yield real and lasting results for years to come. Our hope is that by expanding our approach to reentry and demonstrating what is possible at the federal level, we will ensure that our facilities support the needs of returning citizens and advance the continuing evolution of modern correctional practices, leading to safer neighborhoods and brighter futures at every level.
In addition to the efforts described in the Roadmap, I am pleased to tell you that today, I am sending a letter to the governors of each of the 50 states, inviting them to work with the Department of Justice to help citizens return to their states from federal prisons. Specifically, I am asking each state to work with us to allow citizens returning from federal prisons to exchange their federal BOP inmate ID card – and their authenticated release documentation – for a state-issued ID. Or, alternatively, states could accept BOP identification cards and release papers as supporting documentation towards obtaining a state-issued ID. This basic step would have a powerful impact. As a practical matter, it would standardize the current patchwork of state policies around providing returning citizens with identification and it would eliminate one of the most common – and most harmful – barriers to reentry across the United States. But even more important is the message that such a program would send to returning citizens: that they are welcome back into society; that their government is invested in their success; and that they can now – quite literally – exchange their old identity as a federal inmate for a fresh start. I cannot imagine a simpler or more profound way for every state to signal their commitment to improving reentry outcomes and I urge every governor in the United States to join me in making this proposal a reality.
I have seen firsthand the difference that strong, innovative reentry programs can make. In January, I traveled to Boston, where I had the chance to visit a local job training program that helped incarcerated individuals earn their certifications in carpentry or electrical wiring – similar to our Federal Prison Industries. This particular program in Boston had reached out to local businesses and secured a simple commitment: that each partner organization would hire one of the program’s graduates – just one – on a trial basis. Now, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet with many graduates of programs like this one across the country and I’m always impressed with their dedication, their optimism and their hard work. But on that day in Boston, I also got to meet one of the employers. He told me that that initially, he was reluctant to hire someone with a criminal record. He was a little uncomfortable. He wasn’t sure it was the best decision. But he put his anxieties aside and he took a chance. And when I spoke with him, he told me that the person he hired turned out to be one of the most loyal and hardworking employees that he had ever had. After six months, when it came time to file his evaluation, his only question was, “When can I hire more people from your program?”
I want to hear more stories like that. I want to hear from people who left prison with the training and resources they need to find a good-paying job. I want to hear from business owners who benefitted from the skill and work ethic of employees who they hired through reentry programs. And I want to hear from service providers who are as inspired as I am by the courage, the determination and the hope of men and women determined not to let their past define their futures.
The Department of Justice is dedicated – and I am personally committed – to standing with all of these men and women. With the steps that we are announcing today, we are sending a message that should resonate throughout the country with incarcerated individuals looking to build a better life; with individuals who have come home, but feel frustrated and let down; and with the families and friends of all these individuals who want nothing more than support for the people they love: this Department of Justice and this Administration, will not abandon you. We will not forget you. We will walk beside you, hand-in-hand, towards a brighter future.
Of course, our work will not be completed overnight. Despite the real and tremendous progress that we have made, we have a long way to go. And for those who have been incarcerated, the challenges are real. But our success – and the success of our friends, families and loved ones – will depend on the dedication and participation of partners like you. But I want you to know that it is because of your help – and because of the determination that I have seen from advocates, service providers, corrections professionals and, most importantly, returning citizens – that I am confident about the more perfect – and more compassionate – union that we will build together. I want to thank all of you for your many contributions to that effort and I look forward to what we will accomplish in the months to come.
Access to Justice
Updated February 9, 2017