By Susan Jones | April 8, 2016 | 7:34 AM EDT
The U.S. Justice Department, as part of its attempt to ease the transition from prison to homecoming, has designated the last week in April as National Reentry Week.
“From job fairs to family day, to father-daughter dances, to mock interview programs, all the ways in which we can provide the support so that our brothers, our sisters, our fathers and our mothers — so that when our fellow Americans leave these institutions, they can truly, truly find their way home,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said
Lynch told a public policy forum in New York City on Thursday that she has asked all of her U.S. Attorneys to host a reentry event, “focusing on how we help individuals safely and securely come back home to their communities.” “I have asked every Bureau of Prisons facility to host reentry events across the country, and we are achieving not just those events, but a connectivity and a contribution from the entire administration that is truly, truly heartwarming. And we’re going to highlight those programs and the ways in which people come together and support our returning individuals.”
As part of the Obama administration’s criminal justice reform efforts, Lynch said DOJ is working to prevent people from having contact with the criminal justice system in the first place. That includes fewer mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenses; and using diversion programs such as drug treatment and community service as an alternative to incarceration.
“But we also have to work to ensure that when our fellow Americans leave our institutions of incarcerations and return home to their families and communities that they have access to the support they need.”
Lynch said DOJ is working with the U.S. Education Department to expand Pell Grant eligibility in both state and federal prison systems, so convicts “can be competitive, so they can secure employment, so they can be an inspiration to their children.”
She also said the Justice Department is partnering with the Department of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development “to tackle the problems that obstruct opportunity and lead to crime in the first place — neighborhood blight; substandard schools; and…inadequate mental health resources.”
She also mentioned expanded Legal Aid; millions of dollars in Second Chance grants; and even the simplest things, such as helping ex-convicts get identification cards or even a bus pass.
“Change can come, and we can make it so,” Lynch said.
Lynch, in another speech on Thursday, noted that more than 600,000 individuals return to American neighborhoods every year after serving time in federal and state prisons. Another 11.4 million individuals cycle through local jails.
“Those are extraordinary numbers and they represent a tremendous amount of potential,” she said. “Sometimes the sheer size of these numbers, however, blunts our sensibilities to what they truly represent: people. Every number is a person. Behind every person is a family and surrounding every family is a community.
“These are people who could contribute to our economy, who could support their families and who could transform their communities into better places to live. If we are truly going to make the most of this precious resource, this human capital, we must ensure that these individuals have the tools and the skills and the opportunities they need to return to their communities not just as residents, but as leaders; equipped not only to survive, but to succeed.
“We must ensure that our returning brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers — our fellow Americans — can truly return home.”