America must offer meaningful opportunities for redemption and rehabilitation to empower those who have been incarcerated to become productive, law-abiding, members of society, and reduce crime and make our communities safer. Leaders on both sides of the aisle recognize that second chance opportunities offer people who have made mistakes and served their time a path to make meaningful contributions to their communities and reduce recidivism. In doing so, we can break the cycle of crime, and allow law enforcement to focus their time and resources on the most pressing threats to public safety.
Embodying the President’s belief that America is a nation of second chances, today the President granted pardons to three people and commuted the sentences of 75 people, all of whom have made efforts to rehabilitate themselves, including through educational and vocational training or drug treatment in prison.
Advancing successful reentry outcomes makes our communities safer, disrupts cycles of economic hardship, and strengthens our economy. Improving reentry is also key part of the comprehensive strategy President Biden announced last June to tackle gun crime and violence. And, since President Biden took office, our economy has added a record 7.9 million jobs and the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.6 percent. At the same time, many industries are facing workforce shortages to meet growing demand as their businesses flourish. America is in a prime position to offer opportunities for meaningful employment to the more than 600,000 people that leave prison every year—for whom securing stable employment is among the most significant challenges.
Today, during Second Chance Month, the Biden-Harris Administration is releasing a comprehensive strategy that expands Incarceration to Employment opportunities, as well as the following concrete policy actions as part of a whole-of-government effort to advance employment, bolster reentry, empower formerly incarcerated persons, and strengthen our communities and our economy:
Investing in Job Training and Intensive Reentry in Federal Prisons
- Launching Historic DOJ-DOL Partnership. Today, the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor are announcing a first-of-its-kind collaboration to invest $145 million over FY22-FY23 to provide job skills training and individualized employment and reentry plans for people incarcerated in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities, and to provide pathways for a seamless transition to employment and reentry support upon release. This landmark initiative is part of the Department of Justice’s implementation of the First Step Act, and it will be the first time the Department of Labor will bring its job training and reentry support and expertise to federal prisoners.
Expanding Federal Job Opportunities and Loan Programs
- Providing New Workforce Grant Funding. The Department of Labor has announced solicitations for grants totaling $140 million to advance job opportunities:
- Growth Opportunities is a new $85 million program that will provide education and training, paid work experience, mentorship, and leadership development to justice-involved youth and young adults.
- Pathway Home will fund $55 million for job training, pre-apprenticeship programs, digital literacy training, and pre-release and post-release career counseling for justice-involved adults.
- Expanding Access to Business Capital. This week, the Small Business Administration (SBA) will publish changes to remove barriers to eligibility based on irrelevant criminal history records for its 7(a), Microloan, and 504 loan programs. SBA is also developing other ways to reduce restrictions in its programs. The SBA recently announced the elimination of criminal record restrictions to access its Community Advantage loans, a critical program that provides loans to low-income borrowers and those from underserved communities. These actions build on SBA’s February 2021 expansion of eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program by removing restrictions for entrepreneurs with certain prior criminal convictions or other involvement in the justice system.
- Expanding Access to Federal Employment. This week, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will publish proposed regulations that remove barriers to federal employment for formerly incarcerated individuals under the bipartisan Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act. Once enacted, these regulations will expand the positions covered by the federal government’s “ban the box” policy, which delays inquiries into an applicant’s criminal history a conditional offer has been made. The regulations also create new procedures that outline due process and accountability steps for hiring officials who are alleged to have violated the “ban the box” procedures.
- Leveraging Historic Investments in Infrastructure to Promote Hiring of Formerly Incarcerated Persons. The Department of Transportation is expanding access to jobs for formerly incarcerated persons and historically marginalized populations in bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act grant programs, including the RAISE Grants, INFRA Grants, and the Port Infrastructure Development Program.
- Promoting Best Practices with Federal Construction Industry Contractors. Given the landmark level of funding available under the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to the construction industry and provisions in those grant programs aimed at expanding access to project jobs for formerly incarcerated persons, it is critical that federal contractors and subcontractors comply with the law. This is why the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contracting and Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued new guidance to federal contractors and subcontractors that underscores its earlier directive that criminal background check policies, which may have a disparate impact on protected classes, may violate existing nondiscrimination obligations. OFCCP also developed compliance assistance materials for contractors including a webinar, Construction Compliance FAQs, and a training. OFCCP has also released a new memorandum identifying 400 federal contractors and subcontractors who have been neutrally selected to undergo a full compliance review of their hiring practices to ensure people with arrest and conviction records are not being discriminated against.
- Expanding Second Chance Visiting Fellowship Program. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) brought on two new Second Chance Fellows who were formerly incarcerated to help develop reentry policy. For the first time, one of those Fellows will work with the Department of Education (ED) on educational policy for carceral settings and upon reentry.
Promoting Best Practices for Hiring Across the Federal Government
- Providing Interactive Training and Technical Assistance for Job Seekers. The Office of Personnel Management has published detailed guidance for applicants with arrest and conviction records who are interested in federal employment. To further support them, OPM is hosting interactive sessions between federal agencies’ Human Resources practitioners and applicants with arrest and conviction records.
- Leveraging Existing Hiring Authorities for Agencies. OPM will host a training webinar on April 28 to assist federal hiring officials, human resource and DEIA practitioners, and supervisors with leveraging existing federal hiring authorities to recruit and hire formerly incarcerated persons into the federal government.
- Expediting the Restoration of Benefits. In partnership with the Social Security Administration and the Bureau of Prisons, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Benefits Administration announced a new effort to automate information-sharing among these agencies to accelerate benefit restoration and reduce the administrative burden for veterans.
- Conducting Outreach to Incarcerated Veterans. The VA announced new efforts to increase the number of state prisons and jails that use its Veterans Reentry Search Service, which helps identify veterans in their custody and connect them with reentry services.
Expanding Access to Health Care and Housing
- Expanding Access to Health Care. The Department of Health and Human Services is proposing to establish a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) of six months post-release for Medicare for people who missed an enrollment period while incarcerated, which would reduce potential gaps in coverage and late enrollment penalties.
- Expanding Access to Housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it has initiated a 6-month comprehensive review of its existing regulations and guidance to identify how HUD programs can increase their inclusivity of people with arrest and conviction records.
Developing and Amplifying Educational Opportunities
- Expanding Second Chance Pell. ED will select 73 additional schools to expand its Second Chance Pell Initiative. The expansion of the program into these schools will ultimately provide access to thousands of additional students. First established in 2015 by the Obama-Biden Administration, the Second Chance Pell Initiative provides Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals to participate in postsecondary education programs. This expansion of sites will help the Department to prepare for full expansion of Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated students in July 2023.
- Providing a Pathway Out of Loan Default. ED will also announce changes to policies to help incarcerated individuals get out of loan default to access Pell Grants. In the short term, incarcerated persons who have defaulted will get a “fresh start.” Like other defaulted borrowers, incarcerated borrowers with defaulted loans will reenter repayment in good standing when the student loan payment pause ends. ED is also announcing a longer-term fix that will take place after “fresh start” is implemented: it will allow incarcerated persons to consolidate their loans to get out of default. Incarcerated persons interested in enrolling in Second Chance Pell were twice as likely as the broader population to be turned away because of defaulted loans. This change will now allow incarcerated persons the same opportunity to get out of default as non-incarcerated persons.
- Investing in Digital Literacy. The Department of Commerce’s Digital Equity Planning Grant, funded by the bipartisan Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act, will provide $60 million to states and Puerto Rico to invest in digital literacy and equity programs for underserved communities, including incarcerated and formerly incarcerated persons.
- Publishing New Guidance on Correctional and Reentry Education Resources. ED published guidance to states and localities on how to divert young adults from the juvenile and criminal justice system. ED also published new guidance for incarcerated persons seeking educational opportunities, summarizing the resources available to support them.
Supporting Job Seekers and Establishing Best Practices for Employers
- Tax Credits and Free Bonding Programs for Employers. DOL developed new resources for justice-involved job seekers, reentry service providers, and employers to learn about existing federal reentry employment incentives including the Federal Bonding Program and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.
- Resources for Employers, Job Seekers, and Employees. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s new landing page centralizes existing resources on the use of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions, and other technical assistance documents for employers and job seekers.
- Supporting Reentry 2030. DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA partnered with the Council of State Governments (CSG) to launch the national Reentry 2030 campaign, which will work with state leaders to set public reentry goals to achieve better economic mobility and outcomes for persons exiting prison, parole or probation by 2030.
- Promoting Resources for Second Chance Month. The National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC) is hosting a series of live training and technical assistance events for Second Chance Act grantees as well as the public in honor of Second Chance Month.
- Reentry Toolkit. The National Reentry Resource Center launched the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Reentry Toolkit for local reentry coalition leaders and community leaders to allow assessment of existing reentry efforts and opportunities to strengthen outcomes for incarcerated persons in their communities. The NRRC will also continue to host its searchable database of reentry resources.