Prioritizing Reentry and Second Chances: Insights from the Justice Department

A Remote Address from the Justice Department

Although unable to be physically present in the Great Hall today, I am deeply honored to participate in this extraordinary event remotely.

I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Office of the Pardon Attorney and its distinguished leader, Liz Oyer, for extending this invitation to me.

The Power of Clemency: A Personal Journey

Clemency, as a tool of justice, holds immense power. My initial encounter with it dates back to my first job after graduating from law school. In 2003, I witnessed the transformative impact of clemency when the then-Texas Governor granted 35 pardons to my clients, individuals wrongfully convicted in the small town of Tulia, Texas.

Those pardons irrevocably changed their lives, leaving an indelible mark on me.

Years later, in 2014, I collaborated with the Office of the Pardon Attorney during the Obama Administration’s Clemency Initiative, continuing my dedication to the cause.

Acknowledging the Pardon Office: Beyond Pardons

I commend Liz Oyer and her dedicated team at the Pardon Office for their invaluable work. Their efforts extend far beyond the realm of pardons and clemency.

They shine a light on issues such as collateral consequences and the enduring implications of criminal convictions and incarceration on individuals’ lives.

Fostering Dialogue: Justice-impacted Voices

Engaging with individuals who have directly experienced the justice system is an essential priority for the Justice Department.

Their perspectives enrich our understanding and guide our policymaking. I express my gratitude to our panelists for sharing their stories, insights, and recommendations.

Collateral Consequences: A Widespread Impact

The reach of collateral consequences is profound. In the United States today, nearly one in three individuals possesses a criminal record, encompassing an estimated 70 to 100 million people.

Equally significant is the impact on children, with approximately one in three American children having at least one parent with a criminal record.

In 2020 alone, nearly 550,000 individuals returned to their communities from state and federal prisons, with millions more cycling through local jails.

The Pervasive Challenges of Collateral Consequences

Collateral consequences cast a long shadow, affecting fundamental aspects of our daily lives, from housing and employment to healthcare and beyond.

These consequences perpetuate cycles of poverty, with parents missing vital wage-earning years due to incarceration, subsequently struggling to secure employment upon release.

Disproportionate Impact: Communities of Color

The impact of collateral consequences is not uniform, disproportionately affecting communities of color.

The Brennan Center’s estimate of $372.3 billion in lost annual earnings underscores the gravity of this issue. When individuals are denied opportunities solely based on their past, society loses out on their unique perspectives and talents.

The Justice Department’s Commitment to Second Chances

At the Justice Department, we firmly believe in second chances and are dedicated to supporting reentry and reducing unnecessary barriers. Collaborating with federal agencies, we aim to address these challenges comprehensively.

Interagency Efforts: Advancing Reentry

The Federal Interagency Alternatives and Reentry Committee, established under the Executive Order on “Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing and Criminal Justice Practices,” has three critical goals:

reducing unnecessary criminal justice interactions, supporting rehabilitation during incarceration, and facilitating reentry for individuals with criminal records.

A Strategic Approach: Rehabilitation, Reentry, and Trust

Our strategic plan, “Rehabilitation, Reentry and Reaffirming Trust,” outlines our work in these areas. Notably, we are focusing on fines and fees practices, healthcare access, and support for individuals nearing release.

Addressing Fines and Fees: A Path to Equity

Efforts to address unlawful fines and fees practices are a priority. We have provided guidance to state and local courts to prevent racially discriminatory enforcement and emphasize the potential negative impact of unaffordable fines and fees on public safety and reentry.

Medicaid and Continuity of Care: A Lifeline for Reentry

Recognizing the importance of healthcare continuity upon release, we are collaborating with the Department of Health and Human Services to support the Medicaid 1115 Reentry Demonstration Waiver, which enhances care transitions for individuals nearing release.

Investing in Reentry: Grants and Programs

Through grants, we are investing in reentry programs, focusing on correctional education, employment, and addressing mental health and substance use challenges. We are committed to assisting individuals with criminal records in overcoming obstacles.

Internal Initiatives: Streamlining the Pardon Process

The Pardon Office, in collaboration with the Office for Access to Justice, is simplifying and streamlining the pardon application form to make the clemency process more accessible. This initiative aims to encourage more pardon applications.

Supporting Government-Issued Identification: A Crucial Step

To facilitate housing, employment, and other essentials, we are addressing barriers to obtaining government-issued identification upon release from the Bureau of Prisons.

This includes developing a Release Identification Card and a “Release Folder” containing necessary documents for obtaining a REAL ID-compliant identification.

Honoring Second Chances: Second Chance Fellows

I applaud the Office of Justice Programs for their “Second Chance Fellows” program.

Formerly incarcerated individuals like Angel Sanchez and John Bae contribute invaluable expertise in reentry policy and practice, working collaboratively to create positive change.

Closing Remarks: Fostering Healthy and Safe Communities

In conclusion, I extend my gratitude to all participants for joining this important conversation at the Justice Department. Your presence and work inspire us to do more to support second chances and build healthier, safer communities.

Thank You: A Shared Commitment to Justice and Redemption