Administration’s Reentry Council working on several fronts
President Obama has made progress helping ex-cons return to society, but he hasn't created the sweeping program he promised.
In 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder held the first meeting of the administration's Reentry Council "to identify and to advance effective public safety and prisoner reentry strategies.”
Representatives from 20 different federal agencies sit on the council, which aims to coordinate all levels of government to help ex-offenders make a successful transition to productive society. Holder and former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, for example, last year laid out guidance to clarify the rights of ex-prisoners in employment screening, and Holder has encouraged states to revisit laws that make it difficult for ex-offenders to reacclimate, such as restrictions on voting rights or obtaining driver's licenses.
The council has a website to help state and local officials, community organizations as well as ex-offenders, providing information about job training opportunities and other resources. It's also a link to federal grant applications, such as the Second Chance Act Technology Career Training grant, which is currently open. The grant -- which will encompass 10 awards of $750,00 each -- can be used to establish training programs in technology fields for adults and juveniles who are six to 18 months away from being released from jail or prison.
A report by the Justice Policy Institute noted that funding for reentry programs increased from $25 million in 2009 to $100 million in 2010 and 2011, though the authors were critical of other Obama administration policies they viewed as too punitive.
In all, we see a significant push by the Obama administration toward reducing recidivism among the 700,000 ex-convicts who are released from state prisons each year. The efforts so far, though, appear more aimed at education and support of state programs, rather than the comprehensive prison-to-work incentive program that Obama promised. We'll keep watching for that step to be taken and for now rate this a Compromise.
Email interview with Karen Dewitt, Sentencing Project, Jan. 11, 2013
Department of Justice, "Attorney General Eric Holder Convenes Inaugural Cabinet-Level Reentry Council,” Jan. 5, 2011
Department of Justice, "Attorney General Eric Holder Convenes 3rd Federal Reentry Council Meeting,” May 10, 2012
Department of Justice, "Second Chance Act Technology Career Training Program for Incarcerated Adults and Juveniles -- FY 2013 Competitive Grant Announcement,” accessed Jan. 11, 2013
Justice Policy Institute, "The Obama Administration's 2011 Budget: More Policing, Prisons, and Punitive Policies,” February 2010
WhiteHouse.gov, "Prisoner Reentry Programs: Ensuring a Safe and Successful Return to the Community,” Nov. 30, 2011
New York Times, "How to Cut Prison Costs,” Nov. 10, 2012
Prison-to-work program missing
No doubt, prison reform advocates would love to see it. But so far, PolitiFact could find no sign of the prison-to-work program that candidate Barack Obama touted in the campaign.
There's nothing like it at the Department of Justice, among pending legislation in Congress, or at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, other than the department's longtime Offender Transition Program, which includes halfway houses to help prisoners adjust to life outside.
Will Matthews, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberities Union, which advocates for programs such as this, said no one in his organization has heard anything about it. He checked around with the ACLU's partners in the prison reform community and found nothing either.
"We certainly are not aware of anything along those lines being proposed, and we're quite sure there isn't anything like that going on in Washington right now," Matthews said. He added, "We'd love to see something like that."
Two queries to the Justice Department went unanswered. In absence of evidence that the Obama administration is moving on this front, PolitiFact rates this promise as Stalled.
Jan. 7, 2010 phone interview with Will Matthews, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Manual, Offender Transition Program, Federal Bureau of Prisons