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October 8, 2010

Notable speech by AG Eric Holder about reentry at a notable EOEF event

Speaking today at the European Offenders Employment Forum event taking place in DC (details here, EOEF website here), US Attorney General Eric Holder gave this lengthy (and important?) speech which has a lot of notable talk about US punishment, corrections and especially reentry.  Here are a few excerpts:

Every person in this room –- whether you work as an attorney or law enforcement officer, conduct research or develop policy -– can agree that prisoner reentry is one of the most complex criminal-justice challenges of the 21st century. 

Today, corrections systems, worldwide, are under extraordinary stress.  Capacity limitations and budget constraints have resulted in an acceleration of early release and have put prisoner education and employment training programs at risk.  On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, people transitioning out of prison now confront labor market conditions that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression....

Here in the United States, more than 2 million people are behind bars -– that’s more than 1 in 100 American adults and, according to the World Prison Brief, more inmates than the top 35 European countries combined.  At some point, 95 percent of those prisoners will be released.  Each year, nearly three-quarters of a million people transition out of state and federal prisons.  Millions more cycle through local jails.

Once those who commit crimes pay their societal debt, we have many expectations: that they will reenter our communities, ready to assume a productive role; that they will remain crime-free and sober; that they will get jobs.  But, as all of you have seen, these expectations are not always met.  And while we know that stable employment is one of the keys to successful reintegration, we also know that it is one of the greatest challenges of reentry....

There’s a theme here: maintaining family connections and developing job skills during incarceration can improve public safety, reduce recidivism, and have lasting positive effects.  It is time we started to think about reentry in this context.  And it is critical that we turn to sound science and evidence-supported strategies to guide our work.

Today’s Department of Justice is dedicated to being smart, not only tough, on crime -– and our reentry efforts are no exception.  For me, for President Obama, and for leaders across the administration, effective reentry is a top priority....

Last year, through the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, we awarded close to 70 grants to support reentry activities under the banner of the Second Chance Act. Today, our commitment continues.  This morning, I’m pleased to announce that $100 million in Second Chance Act funding will be awarded to support 178 reentry grants nationwide.  The grants will be distributed to government agencies and nonprofit organizations to provide a wide range of services –- employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, and others -– that can help reduce recidivism.

Before administering this year's grants, the Justice Department received and reviewed 975 applications.  That’s right, 975 –- a number that reflects a transformation in our national attitude toward reentry.  A decade ago, few programs focused on prisoner reintegration. Today, coalitions of government organizations and community groups in every corner of our country are working together to improve reentry outcomes.... To put it simply, reentry has moved from the margins to the mainstream.

I have no doubt that this year’s Second Chance Act grants will build on these trends and advance the progress we’re seeing. While most of these new investments will go to states, localities, and nonprofit organizations, we are also awarding funds to support the National Reentry Resource Center –- a “one stop shop” for state-of-the-art information and assistance.  Soon, the Center will include a “what works” library with searchable, up-to-date information about the most effective programs, policies, and practices for reducing recidivism, increasing employment, decreasing substance abuse, and producing other positive outcomes.

But there is still much to learn.  That’s why $10 million dollars will be invested in new and more rigorous research on the effectiveness and impact of reentry programs.  In addition to these new grants, I’m pleased to tell you all that the Justice Department is moving forward with a new initiative –- known as Project Reentry -– to strengthen our recidivism and reentry work.  Project Reentry will focus on implementing recommendations that have been developed by the Sentencing and Corrections Policy Working Group that I convened last April....

Here in the United States, the cost of housing state prisoners has quadrupled over the last two decades.  In fact, state spending on corrections has grown at a faster rate than nearly any other state budget item.  Last year, the price tag on state prisons topped $50 billion. The current pace of prison growth is –- quite frankly –- no longer economically sustainable. And from a cost-benefits perspective, it’s simply indefensible....

Of course, some violent offenders deserve lengthy prison terms –- and society is better off having them behind bars.  But –- as we’re seeing in states like Texas and Kansas –- public safety can improve, and taxpayers can see significant savings, when people who commit crimes are served by high-quality community supervision and programs where services and sanctions work in unison.  In an effort to advance and replicate successful Justice Reinvestment strategies, the Department of Justice is awarding $10 million to expand these activities in states, counties, and tribal communities.  We’re also considering the implications of Justice Reinvestment strategies at the federal level.

October 8, 2010 at 11:40 AM | Permalink


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We have heard this speech before from the Attorney General. I will start to believe when I see its concepts (e.g., alternatives to prison, fewer mandatory minimums, relief from collateral consequences) applied to the federal justice system. I will really start to believe when I see the Justice Department recommend its first pardon, and President Obama grant it.

Posted by: margy | Oct 8, 2010 1:04:47 PM

One of the numerous benefits of the end of the Obama administration is that Mr. Holder will be heard from less.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 8, 2010 6:20:21 PM

so funny how bitter Mr. Otis is. A part of me has to love how uptight and predictable the guy is. oh me, oh my, so entertaining.

Posted by: oho | Oct 9, 2010 2:43:16 AM

Bill, what Holder says makes good sense to me. What's your gripe?

Posted by: anon1 | Oct 9, 2010 9:48:46 AM

"I will start to believe when I see its concepts (e.g., alternatives to prison, fewer mandatory minimums, relief from collateral consequences) applied to the federal justice system."

"so funny how bitter Mr. Otis is. A part of me has to love how uptight and predictable the guy is. oh me, oh my, so entertaining."

Ain't it the truth? Two wonderful statements from two wonderful minds.

Posted by: Interested Bystander | Oct 9, 2010 9:49:08 AM

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