On October 10th, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole traveled to Talladega, Ala., where he spoke with members of the Northern Alabama Reentry Council. The Reentry Council was formed in April 2011, with the goal of offering recommendations to create more successful outcomes in the lives of former inmates, as well as improving the security of the communities they return to upon their release. The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, Joyce White Vance, Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels and FCI Talladega Warden John Rathman hosted the Reentry Council meeting which included a group of professionals from across the federal, state and local criminal justice systems.
Each year more than 700,000 individuals exit our state and federal prisons. Currently, two-thirds of all released state prisoners will be rearrested within three years, with half of those returning to prison. Forty percent of former federal prisoners are rearrested or have their supervision revoked within three years after release. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that more than $74 billion is spent on state, local and federal prisons each year. The Department of Justice has made a strong commitment to programs that will assist with reentry, along with prevention and enforcement, as part of our comprehensive Anti-Violence Strategy.
As Deputy Attorney General Cole said:
“The members of this Council have recognized that we can no longer afford the societal and budgetary costs incurred when people cycle in and out of our prisons… As we developed our comprehensive Anti-Violence Strategy we realized that we cannot arrest and prosecute our way out of this devastating problem. While prosecution is important, we also have to prevent the violence from happening in the first place and one important way to do this is to pay attention to the people incarcerated in our prisons and as they prepare to leave those institutions make sure they are ready to reenter our communities as productive, law abiding members. In this vein, federal prosecutors are encouraged to think comprehensively about the criminal justice process – to critically examine other ways to improve public safety, beyond traditional enforcement and to place an increased reliance on criminal justice stakeholders and community leaders to help guide and inform these efforts.”
Deputy Attorney General Cole went on to discuss other efforts that are being made at the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons and at the state level. He highlighted, for example, programs taking place in Alabama through the Reentry Council:
“[T]hrough its working groups, this Council has tackled issues for formerly incarcerated individuals involving housing, transportation, healthcare and rehabilitation, education, job training and access, and community support and reintegration. The working groups have developed and implemented critical initiatives which are providing measurable results — such as working on the development of a memorandum of understanding between municipal judges to assist formerly incarcerated individuals who are attempting to re-acquire their driver’s licenses.”
Under Attorney General Eric Holder, the department has prioritized effective reentry and reinvestment programs for formerly incarcerated individuals. Since October 2009, the department has awarded more than $200 million Second Chance Act grants to more than 370 state, local and tribal prisoner reentry programs. These grants will help the nearly 10 million individuals that are released from jails and state and federal prisons each year successfully return to communities. Recently, the Office of Justice Programs announced new awards including a grant to the Alabama Department of Corrections for the Jefferson County Reentry Planning Project.
U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance noted the impact of the Reentry Council working with the states to take an active role to find solutions to ensure public safety and security.
“The North Alabama Reentry Council has been a collaborative effort among federal and state judges, prosecutors, probation and prisons officials to achieve better outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals reentering our communities. Our goal in these efforts is to identify and coordinate resources toward enhancing public safety and saving taxpayer dollars. I have been deeply impressed by all the groups in the community who were operating in isolation but came forward and are now working in specific areas that were the worst barriers to successful re-entry.”
In 2011, Attorney General Holder created the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, bringing together 20 federal agencies to tackle the issue of reentry in a comprehensive way. The Department of Justice recognizes that in order to make our country safer, it is important to make sure that rehabilitation and reentry outcomes are a priority. As Deputy Attorney General Cole said:
“Only by working together can we reduce criminal justice spending, protect individuals and their families, prevent new victimizations, and improve the quality of our communities.”
For more information about the Reentry Council and Second Chance Act, visit www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org