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Prisoner Reentry Programs: Ensuring a Safe and Successful Return to the Community

Supporting reentry programs, which assist incarcerated individuals with a successful transition to their community after they are released, are a central part of the Obama Administration’s strategy to reform the criminal justice system.

Each year, more than 700,000 people are released from state and Federal prison, while another 9 million cycle through local jails.  Statistics indicate that more than two-thirds of state prisoners are rearrested within three years of their release and half are re-incarcerated.  High rates of recidivism mean more crime, more victims, and more pressure on an already overburdened criminal justice system.   The Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy supports comprehensive change within the criminal justice system, promoting a combined public health/public safety approach to stop the all-too-common cycle of arrest, incarceration, release, and re-arrest.

Reentry programs are designed to assist incarcerated individuals with a successful transition to their community after they are released.  Improving reentry is a critical component of President Obama's Strategy to reduce drug use and its consequences.  Specifically, the Strategy calls for supporting post-incarceration reentry efforts by assisting in job placement, facilitating access to drug-free housing, and providing other supportive services.  To further these goals, ONDCP is participating in the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, first convened in January 2011 by Attorney General Eric Holder.  The Council’s main purpose is to make communities safer, assisting those returning from prison and jail in becoming productive, tax-paying citizens and saving taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.

To support this effort, the Council launched a website, as part of the National Reentry Resource Center, designed to provide information for State and local leaders, community and faith-based organizations, and people returning from jail or prison.  Of note is a series of “Reentry Mythbusters” that address a number of issues pertaining to reentering offenders, employers, and housing officials.  The Web site also contains an interactive calendar listing upcoming trainings and a service directory of state-by-state information.

In addition, Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan issued letters seeking to clarify current policies surrounding reentering offenders.  Attorney General Holder’s letter to State Attorneys General urged them to review the legal collateral consequences of their State laws that may impede the successful reentry of formerly incarcerated individuals into society, such as housing and employment restrictions.  This parallels the Justice Department-led review of Federal collateral consequences as a step to reducing the unnecessary burdens placed upon reentering offenders.  Secretary Donovan’s letter to executive directors of Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) clarified HUD’s position regarding eligibility for public housing among people with criminal records.  In the letter, Secretary Donovan encourages PHA executive directors “to allow ex-offenders to rejoin their families in the Public Housing or Housing Choice Voucher programs, when appropriate,” an important step to connect reentering offenders to stable housing. 

The Administration recognizes the importance of offender reentry as a critical tool in breaking the cycle of drug use and crime, and improving the public health and public safety of our communities.  These ongoing efforts are necessary at all levels of government, and we hope you can support these efforts at the community level.

Cynthia Caporizzo  is Senior Policy Advisor for Criminal Justice