WASHINGTON — On Nov. 2, President Obama announced new actions aimed at helping the more than 600,000 formerly incarcerated individuals released from state and federal prisons each year rehabilitate and reintegrate back into their communities.
The new actions aim to advance policies and programs that promote justice, fairness and increased public safety, while also reducing many education, employment and housing challenges and barriers frequently confronted by the formerly incarcerated. Many stem from evidence-based recommendations made by the President’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, which is charged with addressing persistent opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color and ensuring all young people can reach their full potential.
As part of these new actions, the Department of Education will award up to $8 million (over three years) to nine different communities to support educational attainment and reentry success for the formerly incarcerated. Education will also be made available in the form of tech and job skills training for individuals with criminal records. As a part of President Obama’s TechHire initiative, more than 30 communities are working with each other and national employers to expand access to tech jobs with fast track training like coding boot camps and new recruitment and placement strategies. While the program is already in place in many communities, President Obama announced it will expand in Memphis, Tenn.; Newark, N.J.; New Haven, Conn.; New Orleans; and Washington.
Efforts to “ban the box” and remove areas on job applications requiring the formerly incarcerated to disclose past offenses are also part of President Obama’s action. Congress is currently considering bipartisan legislation that would “ban the box” for federal hiring and hiring by federal contractors. In the meantime, President Obama is directing the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to take action where it can by modifying its rules to delay inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process.
Housing-related improvements will include helping public housing authorities and owners of Department of Housing and Urban Development-assisted (HUD) housing regarding the use of arrests in determining who can live in HUD-assisted properties. This guidance will also clarify the department’s position on “one strike” policies and will include best practices. Permanent supportive housing will also be made available for the reentry population through the Pay for Success Program (PFS), an $8.7 million demonstration grant to address homelessness and reduce recidivism. The program will test cost-effective ways to help persons cycling between the criminal justice and homeless service systems, while making new permanent supportive housing available for the reentry population. PFS is an innovative form of performance contracting for the social sector through which government only pays if results are achieved.
Juvenile offenders will also receive added housing support. HUD will provide $1.75 million to aid eligible public housing residents who are under the age of 25 to expunge or seal their records in accordance with their applicable state laws. In addition, the National Bar Association has committed to supplementing this program with 4,000 hours of pro bono legal services.