President Barack Obama at Choctaw Nation in July 2015- Photo by Reid Williams
“Our prisons should be a place where we can train people for skills that can help them find a job, not train them to become more hardened criminals.” — President Obama, July 14, 2015.
Published June 25, 2016
WASHINGTON — Since the President took office, this Administration has been committed to reforming America’s criminal justice system and highlighting the importance of reducing barriers facing justice-involved individuals who are trying to put their lives back on track. Over 2.2 million individuals are in American prisons and jails, and the vast majority of them will return to their communities. Improving education and job opportunities has a recognized effect of reducing crime, making our communities safer and reducing barriers to success.
On Friday, the Administration announced a series of education and jobs programs along with other supportive measures designed to ensure that people who are returning from prison to the community are equipped with the skills and resources necessary to obtain employment, support their families, and contribute to society.
Friday’s Obama Administration announcements include:
Second Chance Pell Pilot Program. The Department of Education selected 67 colleges and universities who will partner with 141 Federal and state correctional institutions to enroll roughly 12,000 incarcerated students in educational and training programs. Selected schools will offer classroom-based instruction, online education, or a hybrid of both at corrections facilities; the vast majority of selected schools are public two- and four-year institutions. Recent studies show that incarcerated individuals who participate in correctional education are 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs, resulting in estimates that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on re-incarceration costs. Through the Second Chance Pell pilot program, institutions may provide Federal Pell Grants to qualified students who are incarcerated and eligible for release, particularly those who are likely to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework. The Second Chance Pell program responds to recommendations put forth by the President’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force to promote successful alternatives to incarceration and eliminate unnecessary barriers to reentry.
Reentry Demonstration Project for Young Adults. The Department of Labor announced over $31 million in grants to seven organizations to design programs for adults ages 18 to 24 to provide job training and a path to meaningful employment. The organizations apply evidence-based interventions in fields including mentoring, career pathways, and registered apprenticeship, with a focus on providing occupational training and credentials.
Training to Work. The Department of Labor awarded grants totaling over $21 million to 16 organizations to serve individuals in high-poverty and high-crime areas. These grants offer returning citizens in a state or local work release program an opportunity to participate in a career pathway program that defines and maps out a sequence of educational and workforce training resulting in skilled workers who meet the needs of local employers. These programs will also provide services such as case management, mentoring, and follow-up services.
Linking to Employment Activities Pre-Release. The Department of Labor announced 11 grants totaling over $5 million to organizations operating specialized American Job Centers inside correctional facilities. The organizations assist soon-to-be-released inmates with the transition to life in their communities by providing services to prepare for employment and increase opportunity for successful reentry. These awards build on an award of $10 million to 20 organizations providing similar services in 2015.
Pathways to Justice. The Department of Labor awarded grants totaling $6.5 million to five non-profit organizations and two local governments to provide mentorship and career training to youth ages 16 to 21 who are at risk of dropping out of high school, becoming involved in the juvenile or criminal justice systems, or have juvenile records. Students will be mentored by justice and emergency services personnel to explore career paths as police officers, firefighters, lawyers, and paramedics and other related professions.
Permanent Supportive Housing through Pay for Success. Research consistently demonstrates a correlation between homelessness and incarceration. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Justice awarded $8.7 million to seven organizations to address individuals cycling between the criminal justice system and homeless services. The grants will fund Permanent Supportive Housing, an evidence-based intervention shown to lead to decreases in homelessness, arrests, hospitalization, and emergency room visits. The Pay for Success model—which enables government to pay only when positive outcomes are achieved—presents a promising way for communities to scale innovative solutions, paying once value of reduced remedial services are realized.
Toolkit for Housing Reentry Programs. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is releasing a toolkit entitled It Starts with Housing: Public Housing Agencies Are Making Second Chances Real. This publication highlights best practices and case studies that can be replicated by communities looking to build their own reentry housing programs to improve housing opportunities for returning citizens across the country.
Protecting the Children of Incarcerated Parents. The Department of Justice will support the development of model family strengthening policies that can be adopted by and implemented in prisons and jails. The policies will address referral and case management for incarcerated parents; visiting policies and procedures; visiting room and waiting room environments; parenting and other programming offered in correctional facilities; family reunification and reentry planning; and identifying and incorporating local services.