(CNSNews.com) – On the same day it dropped Arizona police as partners in a federal immigration program, the Obama administration touted the “safe and successful reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals into our communities.”
The multi-agency “re-entry” effort includes policies that promote the hiring and housing of ex-convicts.
“This Administration and this Department of Justice have made effective reentry a top priority,” said Deputy Attorney General James Cole, speaking at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio on Monday. Cole said the goal is to help returning inmates become productive citizens and lower the costs of incarceration.
Cole sent a memo to all U.S. attorneys in January, reversing an earlier policy that discouraged their involvement in reentry programs: “Now, all U.S. Attorneys Offices are expressly told to get involved in reentry courts and other programs” that help prisoners transition back into the community, he said.
Even Attorney General Eric Holder is involved in the effort, chairing a Federal Interagency Reentry Council, which brings together cabinet officials and other leaders across the Obama administration to tackle some of the most pressing challenges for ex-convicts leaving prison.
Cole said one of the Reentry Council’s accomplishments has been the easing of employment barriers for people with a criminal record:
“We know that stable employment is one of the keys to successful reentry, so we’re working to find ways to make sure our policies improve, rather than hinder, job access.”
He noted that the U.S. Labor Department has provided both tax credits and federal bonding protection for employers who hire people with a criminal record. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently released guidance that discourages employers from denying jobs to applicants with criminal records if their crime is unrelated to the job for which they’re applying.
Cole said the Reentry Council also is developing a guide for the federal government on hiring ex-convicts. “This document will concentrate on best practices for federal contractors, whose companies employ more than 20 percent of U.S. workers,” he said.
On the housing front, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, last year sent a letter to all public housing authorities and HUD-subsidized owners reminding them that people who have served their time “should not be denied access if they do not fall into a prohibited category,” such as sex offender or methamphetamine manufacturer.
“All of these initiatives are geared toward giving returning inmates a fresh start and an opportunity to contribute to the safety of their communities,” Cole said.
Cole also noted that Attorney General Holder has asked all state attorneys-general to review laws in their states that may impose “collateral consequences” on former prisoners.
Collateral consequences are additional civil penalties that may bar a felon from voting, for example – or from getting welfare benefits, student loans, or certain jobs. “While several of these laws serve legitimate public safety goals, some may be strictly punitive measures that only make it more difficult for someone to make a fresh start,” Cole said.
According to Cole, some 2.3 million people – or more than 1 in 100 American adults – are in prison in the United States. As many as 700,000 people leave state and federal prisons every year, he said, and two-thirds of all released state prisoners will be re-arrested within three years, with half returning to prison. Forty percent of federal prisoners are re-arrested or have their supervision revoked within 3 years.
In addition, he said there are almost 12 million jail admissions and releases every year.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that more than $74 billion is spent on federal, state, and local corrections annually.