Obama took some steps to help ex-offenders find jobs
Barack Obama promised to help ex-cons find jobs.
There were several components to his 2008 promise, which said his administration would "create a prison-to-work incentive program, modeled on the Welfare-to-Work Partnership, to create ties with employers, third-party agencies that provide training and support services to ex-offenders, and to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates."
The Welfare to Work Partnership, a national nonprofit, was founded by five companies in 1997 in an effort by the private sector to take the lead in the welfare reform law. Thousands of businesses hired former welfare recipients.
We didn't find a similar program initiated by the private sector for ex-offenders. However, we found efforts by the federal government to increase private-sector job opportunities.
In April 2016, the White House announced the Fair Chance Business Pledge, a call to businesses to offer jobs to those with a criminal record. More than 300 companies have pledged to reduce barriers to employment (for example, by delaying criminal history questions until later in the hiring process).
There were other steps that the federal government took toward the goal of helping ex-offenders including the formation of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council in 2011. That council comprises multiple federal agencies that work toward helping prisoners find jobs.
Through the Second Chances Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2008, Congress has provided about $540 million which includes grants for job training and education.
Experts have said while there have been some strides, there is much room for improvement and the volume of people in prison means that the demand exceeds capacity for many programs.
Harvard sociologist Devah Pager said it is difficult to evaluate progress on ex-offender employment because there isn't solid, broad data on the employment of people with criminal records. The available data is limited in scope.
"There are some evaluation studies that suggest prison-to-work programs can have substantial effects," she said
Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, said it is a challenge to quantify the impact of these initiatives. But Mauer said there have been some encouraging improvements, including Obama's initiative to partially restore Pell grant funding for higher education in prison.
The Obama administration took some steps toward helping ex-offenders find jobs, but we did not find the creation of a prison-to-work incentive program modeled on the Welfare-to-Work Partnership.
We rate this promise Compromise.
CSG Justice Center, Second Chance Act, Accessed Jan. 4, 2017
CSG Justice Center, "The Federal Interagency Reentry Council: A Record of Progress and a Roadmap for the Future," Aug. 16, 2016
White House, Social progress and equality
MRDC, "More Than a Job," January 2012
Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, "Transforming prisons, restoring lives," January 2016
New York Times, "In Search of the Felon-Friendly Workplace," June 25, 2016
Interview, Stefan LoBuglio, director of corrections and reentry National Reentry Resource Center, Jan. 3, 2017
Interview, Marc Mauer, executive director The Sentencing Project, Jan. 3, 2017
Interview, Patrick Rodenbush, White House spokesman, Jan. 4, 2017
Interview, Harvard sociology professor Devah Pager, Jan. 4, 2017
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