|September 21, 2008|
Center for Faith-Based & Community Initiatives
Each year more than 650,000 men and women are released from federal and state prisons, and return to their communities and families. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, two out of three returning inmates will be re-arrested for new crimes within three years of their release from prison and more than half will be re-incarcerated. Further studies show that nearly one-third of adult prisoners were unemployed in the month prior to their arrest. Additionally, it is estimated that unemployment rates among ex-prisoners are between twenty-five and forty percent. Released prisoners face countless challenges which contribute to their return to criminal activity, re-arrest and re-incarceration. These include joblessness, substance abuse, mental health problems, low levels of educational attainment, lack of stable housing, and poor family connections.
“America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”
In response to this growing recidivism crisis, President Bush announced his Prisoner Reentry Initiative (PRI) in his 2004 State of the Union Address. This program is designed to strengthen urban communities by competitively awarding grants to employment-centered organizations that provide mentoring, job training and other transitional services for ex-offenders. The PRI is a collaborative effort between the Departments of Labor (DOL) and Justice (DOJ) to serve urban centers and other areas with the greatest need. The PRI relies on faith-based and community organizations as primary partners for delivering social services to ex-prisoners. It is designed to draw on the organizations’ unique strengths as they provide a direct link into the communities to which the ex-prisoners are returning.
This four-year demonstration grant program was created to serve ex-offenders who are 18 years of age or older and have not been convicted of a violent or sexual-related offense. In spring 2005, the DOL issued a Solicitation for Grant Application, and in November, 2005 awarded 30 grants totaling $19.8 million for projects in 20 states. Companion DOJ grants were awarded to local Departments of Corrections for pre-release services. PRI sites began serving program participants in the spring of 2006 with very promising early results. As of November 9, 2007, 10,361 PRI participants have been enrolled in the program and 6,035 participants have been placed into jobs. The one-year post-release PRI recidivism rate is currently 20 percent less than half the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ national benchmark of 44 percent.
In April, 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded new grants totaling almost $3 million to advance the President's Prisoner Re-entry Initiative. Through a partnership operated with the U.S. Department of Justice, grants of $130,434 each will go to 23 criminal justice agencies across the country. They, in turn, will fund faith-based and community organizations to deliver employment services to prisoners returning to civilian life.
On January 29, 2008, President Bush visited the PRI grantee in Baltimore, Maryland. The Jericho Program, run by Episcopal Community Services of Maryland, serves non-violent adult male offenders who have been released from prison within the last six months. The President met with program graduates and gave a speech on the PRI as the seventh anniversary of his Faith-Based and Community Initiative (FBCI). Over the past seven years, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and the Agency Centers it oversees have worked to strengthen both faith-based and non-religious service organizations and to extend their work in partnership with government.
You can visit the Employment and Training Administration's Prisoner Reentry Initiative page for more information on the PRI, including a map of grantee locations and contact information. There is a video about the program available for viewing. You can also view the PRI Interim Report.
Ready4Work was a three-year, $25 million pilot program designed to assist men and women returning from incarceration through faith-based and community organizations. Eleven Ready4Work grantees provided mentoring, job preparation, soft skills and other transitional services for adult ex-prisoners. Ready4Work was jointly funded by DOL and DOJ, along with a consortium of private foundations.
A total of 4,482 formerly incarcerated individuals enrolled in Ready4Work. Of these participants, 97 percent received comprehensive case management services, 86 percent received employment services and 63 percent received mentoring services. Ready4Work sites placed 2,543 participants (57 percent) into jobs, with 63 percent of those placed retaining their job for three consecutive months after placement. Ready4Work recidivism rates are half the national re-incarceration rate at six-months and 34 percent lower than the national rate of re-incarceration one-year after release.
These results were also compared against a BJS subset of data on a group of ex-prisoners more similar to Ready4Work participants 18- to 34-year-old, African American, nonviolent felons which provides a more relevant comparison point. Just 2.9 percent of African American nonviolent felons participating in Ready4Work returned to state prison with a new offense within six months, and 7.6 percent did so within one year. These rates are, respectively, 48 and 43 percent lower than those for the subsample of ex-offenders provided by BJS.
You can read more about the program, including a detailed description of the program, results, and grantees, as well as relevant publications.
On March 22, 2007, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, under Director Jay Hein, hosted a "Compassion in Action" Roundtable featuring Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao, Office of Management and Budget Director Robert Portman, and Public/Private Ventures president Fred Davie. The event underscored the valuable role that faith-based and community organizations play in helping men and women returning from incarceration. The roundtable also highlighted successful models of prisoner reentry including the success of the Ready4Work program.
For more information on this event read the program.
In 2007, DOL launched the "Preparing Ex-Offenders for the Workplace through Beneficiary-Choice Contracting" grant program, which awarded $5 million to five grantees to address the specific workforce challenges of ex-offenders and produce positive outcomes with a particular focus on employment and reduced recidivism. The program serves ex-offenders who are returning from state or federal institutions and are between the ages of 18-29. Beneficiary-choice contracting allows for a diversity of service styles and approaches. The participant can select a provider that best meets his or her own unique personal needs and interests. Grantees will also draw upon the strengths of many faith-based and community groups to provide services.
In addition to basic employment-focused services, each provider may offer its own set of specialized services that can include but are not limited to: one-on-one or group mentoring, soft-skills training, substance abuse counseling, child care services, or English proficiency courses. Find out more about this program by reviewing the list of grantees.
On November 27-28, 2007 the White House hosted the first Prisoner Reentry Summit in Los Angeles, CA to reflect on the lessons of PRI and Ready4Work and to chart next steps. Over 1,000 representatives from non-profit community organizations gathered for two days of training and workshops, joining leaders from both the private and public sectors, including White House and officials from the Departments of Justice and Labor. Highlighting the key role of FBCOs in helping ex-inmates to build successful lives, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao stated, "We know that the long-term financial costs of re-incarceration far exceed the cost of reentry programs. But that isn't even the most important reason. The heaviest cost is the loss of human dignity when people are living lives of poverty, addiction, and despair. We must and we can break that cycle. And faith-based and community organizations posses unique and invaluable strengths to help us reach out to those most in need."
View the list of helpful resources on reentry including: toolkits, programs, services, and technical assistance.
For more information on prisoner reentry, please contact Scott Shortenhaus at (202) 693-6450.