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Unlocking the Potential of All Americans

Successful reentry isn’t just important for formerly incarcerated individuals themselves; it matters to their communities and our entire society.

Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Labor's blog. See the original post here.

Secretary Perez meets with inmates at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility

Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez meets with inmates at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds, MD on July 28, 2014 who are getting employment services on-site as they prepare for release. The grants awarded today will help improve job opportunities for thousands of other inmates across the country.

For so many people going through the criminal justice system, it can be hard to get back on their feet after they walk out of the prison house door. But if you’ve paid your debt to society, there’s no reason you should be further sentenced upon your release to dead ends, closed doors and economic hopelessness. Successful reentry isn’t just important for formerly incarcerated individuals themselves; it matters to their communities and our entire society.

Until very recently, the assumption was we could build our way to public safety — spending millions and millions of taxpayer dollars on fences and barbed wire. But at the end of the day, 95 percent of those we locked up were returning home worse off than before. We’re finally getting smarter on crime, recognizing that not every tool in your arsenal has to be a hammer.

We can’t just lock people up; we also have to unlock their potential.

That’s what we aim to do with our new grants for the Face Forward and Training to Work programs. We’re investing a total of $59 million to offer critical employment and training services, like career counseling, support services, resume help and job search assistance.

The Face Forward initiative is a youth program that is specifically designed to break down barriers for young people involved in the juvenile justice system. For example, the grants will help youth shed the stigma of having a record by offering diversion programs as well as expungement strategies to remove complaints from the juvenile record.

The Training to Work Adult Reentry program helps adult men and women participating in state or local work-release programs gain the job skills necessary to succeed in high-demand occupations.

Collaboration is at the heart of these grants, and it’s the key to their success. Grantees must build partnerships with other community organizations, work release programs, the juvenile justice system, legal service centers, the workforce system and employer partners — all of them bringing their specific expertise to bear and providing a host of wraparound services that will lead to positive outcomes.

These programs are important for so many reasons and on so many levels. They help strengthen our economy and give people the skills to compete for good jobs. They improve public safety and revitalize communities. And they provide a good return on investment for taxpayers.

Reentry programs work, because the best anti-recidivism strategy is a good job at a good wage. That’s why this administration has made a commitment to getting more formerly incarcerated youth and adults successfully transitioned back into their lives and communities. In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published guidance to employers on how to navigate employment decisions involving job applicants with criminal histories. A Federal Interagency Reentry Council, established in 2011, has been promoting best practices to help the transition, including publishing “mythbusters” to make it clear that an arrest or conviction does not automatically bar someone from a good job. And the Labor Department has been at the forefront of this work by funding a number of innovative programs that are preparing both youth and adults for successful careers upon release.

We believe in second chances in America.

We don’t kick people to the curb when they’ve made a mistake or fallen on hard times. We help them back on their feet and help them find ladders of opportunity, and we do so out of compassion and as a matter of conscience. Those are the values that animate our reentry programs, which we’re confident will continue to change lives in powerful ways.

Tom Perez is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor. Cecilia Muñoz is the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.