skip navigational linksDOL Seal - Link to DOL Home Page
Photos representing the workforce - Digital Imagery© copyright 2001 PhotoDisc, Inc.
November 4, 2008    DOL Home > Newsroom > Speeches & Remarks   

Speeches by Secretary Elaine L. Chao

Printer-Friendly Version

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao
White House National Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Conference
Washington, D.C.
Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thank you, Laura [Laura Hughes, former PRI participant]. Let me congratulate you for your hard work and determination and express my congratulations for your commitment to turning your life around. You are a positive role model for others to follow.

Before I begin, let me recognize all of you in the audience who have a commitment to increasing the impact of faith-based and community organizations. Over the past seven and a half years you have put into action the President's vision of launching a nationwide effort to better the lives of others.

Community and faith-based groups possess unique and invaluable strengths. Often, it is the personal concern and caring touch these groups provide that make the critical difference for those who are at risk: the father who's lost his job and his hope, the ex-offender wanting a fresh start, the struggling single mom.

Empowering faith-based and community organizations throughout America, is something that President Bush — and First Lady Laura Bush — care about deeply. Their strategy is that to reach those most in need, we must enlist every willing partner.

In the past, many of these organizations worked in total isolation from government, even when working toward similar goals. Today, the Department of Labor and other federal agencies are working with faith-based and community organizations toward shared goals, benefiting our country and our communities.

As a result of the President's Faith-Based and Community Initiative, hundreds of dedicated organizations have stepped forward to work side-by-side with the Department of Labor to help the unemployed, the underemployed, and the never employed. Like Laura Hughes, more than 150,000 men, women, and at-risk youth here in the United States have been helped by faith-based and community organizations funded by the Department. In fact, since 2002, the Department has awarded more than 1,300 grants worth over $742 million to help more Americans overcome hurdles to employment, find jobs, and stay employed through the unique work of faith-based and community organizations.

I have here a copy of the final report we are releasing today. It highlights the Department's success in creating access to new opportunities through public-private partnerships with faith-based and community organizations. Together, we are transforming the lives of thousands of individuals.

So today, permit me to share with you some results of the Department of Labor's efforts to further the President's Faith-Based and Community Initiative, especially in the area of prisoner reentry.

The reality is that most of the men and women who are incarcerated today, will return home. Unfortunately, history has shown that in the absence of intervention, a majority of them will relapse and be re-incarcerated. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, two out of three inmates released will be re-arrested within three years, and more than half will be re-incarcerated. Our efforts are aimed at giving hope and a second chance to those who have paid their debt to society.

In 2004, the Department of Labor launched a 3-year, $20 million program called Ready4Work. Eleven sites were chosen to participate in the pilot program and provide services to adult ex-offenders. Ready4Work was designed to leverage the trust and leadership of faith-based and community organizations to help ex-offenders build new lives. The program offered job training, job placement, mentoring and other transitional services to help these men and women transition successfully back into their communities.

With 650,000 offenders released every year, helping this population is a major challenge for our society. Ready4Work helped ex-offenders access stable employment and develop strong social bonds, so they can access hope and opportunity.

The positive results were that Ready4Work participants had a 50 percentlower rate of re-incarceration after six months than Justice Department benchmarks. They had a 34 percent lower rate after one year.

As the President has said many times, "Our nation is great because of the compassion of its citizens." In response to the historical cycle of crime and re-incarceration, the President announced the Prisoner Reentry Initiative, or PRI, in his 2004 State of the Union address. PRI builds upon the strong foundation laid by the Ready4Work program, providing returning prisoners with a positive, productive link to the communities to which they are returning.

Let me share a quick story. In January, President Bush and I visited the Jericho Program in Baltimore, Maryland — one of more than 30 PRI sites funded by DOL to help ex-offenders. Jericho is run by Episcopal Community Services of Maryland and serves non-violent adult male offenders who have been released from prison within the last six months.

While I was there, I met a gentleman named Thomas. Thomas had spent more than 20 years of his life in and out of prison. And, finally, he made the decision to turn his life around. So, three days after his last release, Thomas enrolled in the Jericho Program and completed the initial two weeks of training. He learned how to search for jobs, how to budget his money, and how to address barriers to employment. After his training, Thomas created a resume and received coaching on how to interview for a job. And, the practice paid off! Thomas was offered a position as a security guard, and he's doing a great job. It was really wonderful to meet him and see the tremendous confidence he has now.

And, Thomas is not alone. Through the first 25 months, the Department's PRI program has assisted more than 13,000 ex-prisoners. Over 8,000 have been placed into jobs! And after one year the re-incarceration rate is about one-third the national average. That's a tremendous achievement. However, much remains to be done. But these results give us hope that, with the proper help, those most at risk in our society can turn their lives around. Congress recognized the success of PRI and included it in the Second Chance Act, which the President signed earlier this spring.

While these results are just a beginning, the successful models developed under Ready4Work and PRI to help thousands of ex-offenders are the entrepreneurial ideas that become tomorrow's solutions. And I know you're going to hear more about how the Administration is addressing other challenges facing ex-offenders later today and tomorrow. Programs like the Justice Department's Serious and Violent Offender Reentry and Anti-Gang Initiatives and the Department of Health and Human Services' Access to Recovery and Mentoring Children of Prisoners programs are making a difference.

So thank you for everything you are doing to bring hope and opportunity to those who need it most. Working together, we can continue to ensure that everyone in our society has a second chance, and the tools they need to build lives of independence and dignity.

# # #

Phone Numbers