Group Champions Resources for Ex-Inmates

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Touting new resources dedicated to stamping out recidivism, a federal task force says it is now focused on building awareness so “that the tools for successful reentry reach the communities that need them most.”
     A 108-page report published Tuesday by the Federal Interagency Reentry Council opens with an explanation of the circumstances that spurred the group into action.
     With federal and state prisons releasing more than 600,000 people every year, the task force says America needs effective reentry policies to stop “perpetuating cycles of violence, victimization, incarceration and poverty in our neighborhoods.”
     “We risk wasting the potential of millions of Americans whose past mistakes continue to exclude them from the chance to contribute to their communities,” the report continues.
     The task force, made up of the heads of 20 federal agencies, says it spent the past five years putting policies and programs in place to answer this problem.
     Its progress report Tuesday came 100 days after President Barack Obama formalized the council with a presidential memorandum.
     Charting a course for implementation, the task force says it is now focused on paving a way for formerly incarcerated individuals to access the new opportunities.
     The section on employment, for example, calls for educating federal regional staff on guidance that agencies have issued on the appropriate use of a job applicant’s criminal history. Whereas there should be accountability for companies that violate employment rules, the task force also wants to drive competition for grants that fund job training and placement work.
     Federal enforcement is needed in areas like health care and housing as well, according to the report, which notes that the government has adopted a wide range of rules for the benefit of former inmates since the council first convened.
     Part of the reason the council focuses on implementation and enforcement, rather than calling for specific programs, is because the issue of re-entry primarily falls to the state and local levels, where most of the country’s prison population resides.
     Jesse Jannetta, senior research associate at the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, said this makes it “challenging” to come up with a overarching plan forward.
     “That’s always the challenge of it, that reentry contexts are always so localized,” Jannetta said in an interview.
     Scot Spencer, associate director for advocacy and influence with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, meanwhile applauded the task force for its efforts in areas where the federal government does have power
     Because the Annie E. Casey Foundation focuses on how incarceration affects families and children,Spencer specifically praised the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s policy clarifications on people with criminal records living in public housing and investments in education for people leaving prison.
     Even in areas idea where the government is limited, Spencer sees possibility. He noted that federal initiatives can trickle down to the state level through grants, and that the government has the power to topple restrictions that stand in the way of states taking new steps on re-entry.
     “While it is a state by state decision, the federal government allows for those states to relax or eliminate those barriers,” Spencer said.
     Jannetta emphasized the importance of the task force’s work.
     “I think what you have is really continuing to build on what the promise of the federal interagency reentry council has always been, which is the recognition that successful reentry requires the ability to help support people across a variety of fronts and with a variety of needs,” Jannetta said.
     Her message echoed that of the council’s co-chairs, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecila Munoz.
     “We want all Americans to have a fair chance to live up to their potential, to engage with their families and communities and to reach for a bright future that is not defined by their past mistakes,” Lynch and Munoz said in a preface to the report.

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