Expressing her support for currently proposed sentencing reform, Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett stated on Friday, June 24, that "[i]t is ridiculous to lock people up when there’s an alternative."
Jarrett made her remarks while in Indianapolis at the US Conference of Mayors. She was discussing efforts being made by governments nationwide to move away from mass incarceration. Pointing out the fact that nearly $80 billion is spent every year to operate the criminal justice system, Jarrett said it was simply "unsustainable".
As President Obama’s time as President nears an end, he has not given up on his efforts towards pushing through the reforms he has control over. A day before Jarrett spoke, the White House announced eight different programs that would create job training and educational programs for convicted felons nationwide.
First is the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program. 67 different higher education institutions were selected (PDF Warning) to partner with 100 different federal and state facilities to enroll around 12,000 different inmates into various educational and training programs. Citing a study that showed inmates who received correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years, the White House is estimating that for every dollar spent on this program, four to five dollars will be saved on re-incarceration costs.
Second is the Reentry Demonstration Project for Young Adults. The Department of Labor is pumping $31 million into seven different organizations that have developed job training and job placement programs for 18 to 24 year olds. Using evidence-based interventions – similar to those proposed by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin – in order to provide appropriate resources to young adults, the hope is that poor decisions as a child don’t end up with poor opportunities as an adult.
Third is the Training to Work initiative. The Department of Labor is putting another $21 million in grants into the coffers of 16 different organizations that pledge to work with people who live in high-poverty and high-crime areas. Ex-cons returning to these communities, whether in a state or local work release program, will have a chance to work in a career pathway program that actually outlines the step-by-step process required to turn them into skilled workers for local employers that have immediate needs. These programs will also provide follow-up services to ensure the participants are successful and that future participants learn from their experiences.
Fourth is Linking to Employment Activities Pre-Release. With another round of funding, the Department of Labor is awarding 11 grants that total $5 million to organizations that specialize in creating American Job Centers inside correctional institutions. Job training and placement skills are taught to soon-to-be-released inmates, making it easier for them to find quality work upon their release. These awards build on an award of $10 million that was handed out to 20 organizations doing similar work in 2015.
Fifth, and the final round of funding from the Department of Labor is the Pathways to Justice program. This will award $6.5 million to five different non-profit organizations and two local governments that provide mentorship and career training programs to young people aged 16 to 21. They are either at risk of dropping out of high school, at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile or criminal justice system or already have a record from previous involvement in the criminal justice system. The mentorship provided by local community leaders will provide participants with opportunities to pursue careers as a police officers, firefighters, lawyers, paramedics, and other related professions.
Sixth is the Permanent Supportive Housing through Pay for Success program being funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Justice. $8.7 million was award to seven different groups that will work on improving housing opportunities for those who are cycling between the criminal justice system and homeless services. The research has consistently reached the same conclusion – lack of housing is a leading cause of recidivism. With a requirement for success, no payment is made until a positive outcome is achieved.
Seventh is the Toolkit for Housing Reentry Programs being funded by the HUD. In their pamphlet called It Starts with Housing (PDF warning), HUD gives their best practices and case studies for other communities looking to build their own reentry housing programs.
Eighth, and finally, is the program being run by the Department of Justice called Protecting the Children of Incarcerated Parents. Looking to create family strengthening policies that can be adopted by and implemented in correctional institutions, the idea is to make visiting rooms and policies as well as parenting programming successful in promoting family reunification and reentry planning.
Despite the "dysfunction" in Congress, as Jarrett put it, criminal justice reform is at least moving forward with executive actions. With the way in which other efforts have trickled down, like "Banning the Box" has, the hope is that states adopt similar recidivism-reducing efforts as well.