THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
COUNCIL OF STATE GOVERNMENTS=
REENTRY POLICY COUNCIL MEETING
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2003
Good morning! I'm delighted to be here this morning and to have the opportunity to thank you for the tremendous work you've been doing over the past two years to further efforts throughout the country to help offenders transition from prison to law-abiding life in our communities. I also want to thank Mike Thompson and the Council of State Governments for so skillfully shepherding this important effort.
I'm very happy to share the panel this morning with my colleagues from SAMHSA and the Department of Labor. As you know, about two years ago, our three agencies began working together to develop a new approach to address the problems offenders face that lead them to recurring cycles of crime and incarceration.
We realized that the traditional processes for supervising offenders in the community were overwhelmed and incapable of providing the kind of close supervision and coordinated services needed to protect our communities from recidivism.
More than half a million offenders return to our communities from prison every year. As you know all too well, this places a tremendous burden on community corrections, parole and probation officers. Many parolees today see their parole officer for less than 15 minutes once or twice a month. They receive no intensive supervision or services.
And, in fact, some parolees fall through the cracks of the system and are lost altogether. The Los Angeles Times reported several years ago that parole agents in California lost track of about one-fifth of their parolees. Nationwide, about 9 percent of parolees abscond from supervision.
Many other inmates return to the community without any supervision at all. Data from our Bureau of Justice Statistics show that one in 5 offenders leaves prison without any post-release supervision.
Many of these offenders also leave prison without adequate treatment for their substance abuse and other serious problems.
Our National Institute of Justice reports that, in the communities they've examined, 64 percent -- more than two-thirds -- of arrestees test positive for illegal drugs. 70 percent of inmates in our nation's correctional facilities have a history of drug abuse. And one in 4 convicted property and drug offenders reported to our Bureau of Justice Statistics that they had committed their crimes to get money for drugs.
A large number of offenders suffer from mental illness. At midyear 2000, BJS reported that an estimated 191,000 state prisoners, about 16 percent of all inmates, were identified as mentally ill. And we know from research, that there's a substantial co-occurrence of substance abuse and mental illness -- one problem exacerbating the other.
Many more criminal offenders are illiterate or undereducated. They often have few job skills, little work experience, and no life skills. And despite the growth of prison industries in some states, most prisoners today come out of prison with little more than $50 and a bus ticket. Under these circumstances, they have little prospect of succeeding in the community into which they return.
It comes as no surprise that these offenders soon return to what they know -- a life of crime. Two-thirds of state prisoners are rearrested for a new offense within three years of release.
And the budget difficulties currently facing the states make the situation even more urgent. It is only natural for legislative bodies to look for savings in the big-ticket areas of the budget, which include corrections. And since they can't easily control the influx of convicted offenders into the system, they must look at the other end of the spectrum, seeking to speed their release. Unfortunately, it is the rare legislative body that has the luxury of time to develop a thoughtful, controlled early-release system, designed to reduce recidivism and increase community safety.
The Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative is designed to address these problems by providing the close supervision and wide range of services offenders need to help them successfully transition to law-abiding behavior. It involves an unprecedented collaborative approach -- at the federal, state, and local levels.
As we began to develop this initiative, we realized we needed to bring in other experts -- in the areas of housing and education, for example. So the Reentry Initiative now involves the combined efforts of 11 federal agencies that are providing expertise and resources for local -- and several statewide -- reentry programs in all 50 states.
I want to join my colleagues in assuring you of the federal partners' continued commitment to supporting and furthering reentry efforts at the state and local levels. We recognize that reentry is a critical issue that must be addressed if we are to ensure the safety of our communities.
That is why each of the federal partners has allocated substantial funding and other resources to the Reentry Initiative. Last year, we awarded $100 million to help the 50 states, as well as DC and the Virgin Islands, develop comprehensive strategies to better reintegrate returning offenders into their communities. These programs involve collaborations at the state and local level among state departments of correction and a host of community-based justice, faith-based, and social service organizations.
And we've followed up with additional resources to help the grantees provide the services many offenders so critically need. Thanks to Charles Curie's support and leadership, SAMHSA recently designated another $8 million for the Reentry Initiative to support substance abuse and mental health treatment for offenders served by reentry programs throughout the country.
Our friends at the Department of Labor are working to steer at least some of the approximately $50 million in job training grants they make every year to young offenders who are participating in reentry programs.
Because housing is such a problematic issue for offenders, OJP's Executive Office for Weed and Seed is working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to develop a guide that can serve as a road map to help community and faith-based organizations identify abandoned properties, and then work with owners and local officials to transfer these properties to nonprofit groups that will renovate them for use as transitional housing for offenders.
Our objective here is two-fold: to provide critically needed housing for offenders, while, at the same time, helping to reinvigorate declining neighborhoods.
HUD also has expanded its Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program to help communities provide housing for offenders with HIV or AIDS who are leaving criminal justice system supervision. In addition, HUD has developed Web-based training and a training guide, and is working on a Web forum to share information and solutions in providing post-release housing and other services for offenders.
And last May, we awarded almost $12 million to the Research Triangle Institute to conduct a national evaluation of the Reentry Initiative that will measure the costs and impacts of the state and local reentry programs supported under this effort.
I'm pleased to see that RTI is participating in the Reentry Policy Council. They've just started their work on our national evaluation, but we hope to see some preliminary data sometime next year.
Our goal is to build knowledge about what works best regarding the effective reentry of serious and violent offenders and make this knowledge available to state and local decision makers. As we measure the success of the customized efforts developed in various communities, we can determine what combinations of interventions work best to turn former felons into drug-free, productive members of society, who will no longer be a threat to their communities.
We'll continue to work with our federal and other partners to identify and fill gaps in services needed by returning offenders and provide information about what works to the field. We'll keep you posted on these and other developments on our Reentry Initiative Web site at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/reentry -- and we'll look carefully at the recommendations on which you've worked so hard, to further inform the field of promising approaches to this vexing problem.
One additional issue is critical to the long-term success of local re-entry efforts, and I'm pleased that this has been in the forefront of your thinking as well. The federal funds dedicated to this initiative -- while substantial -- will never be sufficient to support reentry in every community -- nor should they. These funds are designed only to fill gaps in services and to help develop prototype initiatives in all 50 states that can serve as a model for subsequent efforts.
Further, we know that a one-size-fits-all model will not work in every community. We want to assist communities in developing locally-driven efforts which are sustainable over the long term -- not force them into a cookie-cutter approach that won't work for them, or prop them up artificially for the short term with a program they cannot hope to maintain after the funding dries up.
In our experience, the better, more sustainable local efforts are those developed without an infusion of “new” money. For example, the Fort Wayne, Indiana re-entry effort, which was developed by leveraging previously available resources into an effective collaboration, has seen great success in reducing recidivism.
That's why we've reached out to new partners -- like the National Governors Association. With funding from HHS, NGA is working to encourage the formation of more statewide reentry efforts. The governors of seven states -- Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Virginia -- are forming state Reentry Task Forces that will develop effective prisoner reentry strategies and improve pre- and post-release services. Their goal is to reduce the law enforcement and correctional costs that result from crime and, in turn, reduce the strains on struggling state budgets.
I commend the Reentry Policy Council for making flexibility and locally-based solutions a hallmark of your efforts, and encouraging states and the communities within them to develop an approach that will fit their unique needs -- and, we hope, be sustainable over the long term. The work you are doing will make a substantial contribution to furthering successful reentry efforts throughout the country and helping to establish policy in this emerging field.
I'm looking forward to seeing the report you have been working to finalize over these past two days, and I want to thank all of you for your hard work on this effort. Your report is important not only for what it contains, but also for what it represents -- a consensus among a diverse, bipartisan group of stakeholders who are critical to shaping our nation's reentry efforts. It reflects the recommendations of policy makers, practitioners, and representatives from almost a dozen organizations whose members should be involved in reentry initiatives in their states and communities.
Your report will help local communities make informed decisions in planning and implementing local solutions to their crime and reentry problems. At the same time, your recommendations will help guide our efforts at the federal level as we work to refine our Reentry Initiative to that it best meets the needs of our state and local constituents.
I'm pleased that the Office of Justice Programs -- through our Bureau of Justice Assistance -- has been able to help support this important effort, and that we have been active participants in it, in particular through the involvement of my deputy, Cheri Nolan.
Thank you all for your work in producing this landmark report. I look forward to continuing to work with you -- and the institutions and organizations you represent -- to implement the recommendations contained in your final report and to assist communities in implementing and maintaining effective, efficient and sustainable reentry programs that will protect our neighborhoods from crime. Thank you all very much for inviting me here today.