Each year, millions of individuals are released from prisons and jails and return to our communities, including those on probation, parole or supervised release. When reentry fails, the societal and economic costs are high. Addressing reentry presents an opportunity to improve public safety, public health, workforce, education, family, and community outcomes. Because the issue of reentry touches on so many areas, the U.S. Attorney General has assembled a Cabinet-level interagency Reentry Council to support the federal government’s efforts to advance public safety and well-being through enhanced communication, coordination, and collaboration across federal agencies. Through a diverse set of federal agencies, including the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Council is working together to increase public safety, assist those returning from prison and jail in becoming productive citizens, and save taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.
One of the first products of this collaboration is an initial set of “Reentry MythBusters,” designed to clarify existing federal policies that affect formerly incarcerated individuals and their families in areas such as public housing, access to benefits, parental rights, employer incentives, and more. As you will see, some federal laws and policies are narrower than is commonly perceived, as is the case with public housing and food assistance benefits. In several policy areas, states and localities have broad discretion in determining how policies are applied and/or have various opt-out provisions for states (TANF and child support are examples here). In some cases, statutory barriers do not exist at all or are very limited, as is the case with federal hiring. In fact, some federal policies and practices contain incentives for assisting the formerly convicted population (i.e., federal bonding and tax incentives for employers hiring formerly convicted individuals). Among others, there is a Reentry MythBuster that addresses the Title VII implications of using arrest and conviction records in employment.
These Reentry MythBusters and the other materials included here – with more to come – are examples of how the Reentry Council is working to develop coordinated reentry strategies to reduce crime and enhance community well-being. These efforts build on the considerable resources that the federal government is already investing in states and localities to support successful reentry and reintegration.
More information about the Reentry Council, its goals, initial activities, and agency contacts is available at http://www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org/reentry-council. We look forward to connecting with you over the coming weeks and months on these important issues that impact so many.