Barack Obama has announced a series of executive actions to help current and former prisoners re-enter society.
In the attempt to wind down the war on drugs, and reform a broken penal system, Obama has given current prisoners millions of dollars in education grants, and new policies are being implemented that will help former inmates find housing suitable to maintain a crime free lifestyle.
Obama’s plans also include a clean state, clearing house to help former prisoners clear their records where possible, and a call to Congress to “ban the box,” (the box is the space on a job application that asks about criminal backgrounds.)
“Help Americans who paid their debt to society reintegrate back into their communities…Reward prisoners with shorter sentences if they complete programs that make them less likely to repeat an offense,” Obama said in his weekly address.
Nearly one in three Americans has a criminal record, and the Justice Department has found that employers are reluctant to hire ex-offenders.
The results of a 2009 study conducted by the National Institute of Justice found that 60 to 75 percent of ex-offenders were jobless.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 68 percent of former prisoners were rearrested within three years and 76 percent rearrested within five years.
The President has also called on Congress to pass meaningful criminal justice reform, including reforms that reduce recidivism for those who have been in prison and are reentering society.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which recently received a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, would be an important step forward in this effort.
It provides new incentives and opportunities for those incarcerated to participate in the type of evidence-based treatment and training and other programs proven to reduce recidivism, promote successful reentry, and help eliminate barriers to economic opportunity following release.
By reducing overlong sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, the bill would also free up additional resources for investments in other public safety initiatives, including reentry services, programs for mental illness and addiction, and state and local law enforcement.
In October, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the Department of Justice announced a new round of Youth Opportunity AmeriCorps grants aimed at enrolling at-risk and formerly incarcerated youth in national service projects.
These grants, which include $1.2 million in AmeriCorps funding, will enable 211 AmeriCorps members to serve through organizations in Washington, D.C. and four states: Maine, Maryland, New York, and Texas.
In addition, the Department of Labor partnered with the Department of Defense’s National Guard Youth Challenge program and awarded three $4 million grants in April of this year to provide court-involved youth with work experiences, mentors, and vocational skills training that prepares them for successful entry into the workforce.
In sum, these measures are intended to reduce recidivism, promote the integration of ex-prisoners back into civilian life, and encourage these individuals to more fully participate as active, engaged members of American society.