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National Reentry Week—Bridging Opportunity Gaps for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals

Friday, April 29, 2016
by Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, Karol V. Mason, and J. Nadine Gracia, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and Director of the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

During National Reentry Week, April 24-30, 2016, our nation will focus on the future of individuals who are returning to communities after serving time in federal and state prisons and local jails. This focus will extend across many sectors – employment, education, housing, criminal justice, and transportation – all of which impact health. And all Americans, including those who have been formerly incarcerated and have paid their debt to society, should have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

President Obama noted during a speech last July on criminal justice reform at the NAACP Annual Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that “virtually all of the people incarcerated in our prisons will eventually, someday, be released.” He also stated, “while the people in our prisons have made some mistakes, and sometimes big mistakes, they are also Americans. And we have to make sure that as they do their time, and pay back their debt to society, that we are increasing the possibility that they can turn their lives around.”

Throughout National Reentry Week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and our federal partners are highlighting efforts and alliances underway that engage sectors other than criminal justice to support the successful reentry of people who have had contact with the criminal justice system. The Justice Department is coordinating reentry events across the country, such as job fairs, mentorship, and events for children of incarcerated parents. Breaking down barriers to successful reentry requires collaboration between education, job placement, housing, transportation, behavioral health, public health, health care, and justice system organizations – all working together to improve the health, well-being, and safety of all individuals.

To achieve this goal, the HHS Office of Minority Health supports successful reentry through community-based efforts to increase access to health services through the HIV/AIDS Health Improvement for the Re-Entry Population and the recently announced Re-Entry Community Linkages funding opportunity. The HHS Office of Minority Health has also strengthened its partnership with DOJ to bridge the opportunity gaps for the justice-involved population – in which racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented – and address the factors that put individuals at risk of becoming involved with the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems.

Both HHS and DOJ understand that efforts to address social determinants of health extend beyond ensuring the formerly incarcerated have a successful reentry back to their communities; these efforts must also focus on expanding opportunities for those at risk for entering the justice system. The HHS Office of Minority Health and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at DOJ joined forces to launch the Minority Youth Violence Prevention (MYVP) program in 2014, bringing public health and law enforcement together to address youth violence through a public health framework.

And we are already seeing the impact of this program – nearly 3,000 youth have been provided services through this effort. The District Attorney’s Office in Chatham County, Georgia, one of the nine MYVP grantees, manages the Youth Intercept Program. This program provides a safe haven for students to discuss the rise of gangs in Savannah, and through partnership with local schools it helps young people develop positive attitudes and focus on their futures. Since the program’s inception, truancy rates among Youth Intercept Program students have declined nearly 50%.

HHS and DOJ also continue to actively engage in advancing the goals of the White House My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative that works to ensure that all young people can reach their full potential, including boys and young men of color and the White House Council on Women and Girls. DOJ and its Office of Justice Programs play a central role in MBK by focusing on preventing and reducing violence, improving outcomes for youth involved in the juvenile justice system, and ensuring those who are victimized have access to services.

And this week, HHS issued new guidance extending Medicaid coverage to residents of certain community halfway houses – up to about 100,000 people. The guidance also clarifies a long-standing Medicaid policy that probationers, parolees, and those in home confinement are not considered inmates of public institutions and so should not be automatically denied Medicaid coverage.

These initiatives are forging strong partnerships across multiple sectors to improve the health of underserved communities, reduce youth violence, and expand opportunity for young people in disadvantaged communities.

Everyone, including those who have had contact with the criminal and juvenile justice systems, deserve the chance to achieve good health. Join us during National Reentry Week to learn more about federal resources and information on reentry programs.

Additional Reentry-Related Resources:

  • National Reentry Resource Center. The National Reentry Resource Center provides education, training, and technical assistance to states, tribes, territories, local governments, services providers, non-profit organizations, and corrections institutions working on prisoner reentry.
  • Reentry and Employment Strategies. This white paper was developed to help program administrators and practitioners navigate the complex issues related to coordinated planning and service delivery. The white paper provides guidance on how to develop integrated reentry and employment strategies using a resource allocation and service matching tool.
  • Connecting Reentering Men to Health Care Coverage. Many community-based organizations serving men coming out of the criminal justice system recognize that their clients have serious physical, mental, and behavioral health needs. They also recognize that the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid expansion have created new opportunities for their clients to get access to affordable health care, however many organizations do not know what those opportunities are or how to connect their clients to them. This brief explains how organizations serving justice-involved men can better help their clients get connected to coverage and care.
  • Federal Children of Incarcerated Parents Website. This website on youth.gov consolidates all of the federally-funded resources designed to help justice-involved families support children and youth who currently have an incarcerated parent.
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