America is a nation of second chances. Our nation must provide people who have been incarcerated meaningful opportunities for redemption and rehabilitation. America was founded on fresh starts, new possibilities, and the belief that every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Yet, for people returning home to their communities from jail or prison, obstacles often stand in the way of turning this promise into a reality.
Bipartisan elected officials, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect core values that promote safer and stronger communities, such as tackling the root causes of crime, improving individual and collective outcomes, and ensuring taxpayer dollars are delivering the highest degree of public safety and equal justice.
That’s why, today, the Biden-Harris administration is releasing an evidence-informed, multi-year Alternatives, Rehabilitation, and Reentry Strategic Plan to strengthen public safety by reducing unnecessary criminal justice system interactions so police officers can focus on fighting crime; supporting rehabilitation during incarceration; and facilitating successful reentry. The plan builds upon President Biden’s Safer America Plan – his comprehensive strategy to prevent and combat gun crime and violence – and outlines more than 100 concrete policy actions to improve the criminal justice system and strengthen public safety by leveraging data, research, and proven successful strategies from state and local governments across the country.
The Strategic Plan supports justice-involved persons and promotes public safety by utilizing a whole-of-government approach through which the Biden-Harris administration will:
- Expand access to health care;
- Secure access to safe and affordable housing;
- Enhance educational opportunities;
- Expand access to food and subsistence benefits;
- Create and enhance job opportunities and access to business capital;
- Strengthen access to banking and other financial services; and
- Reduce barriers to the ballot box for eligible persons.
During Second Chance Month, President Biden is also using his authority under the Constitution to uphold the values of redemption and rehabilitation by commuting the sentences of 31 fellow Americans who are serving sentences for non-violent drug offenses. These individuals, who have been successfully serving sentences on home confinement, have demonstrated a commitment to rehabilitation, including by securing employment and advancing their education. Many would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offense today, due to changes in the law, including the bipartisan First Step Act.
Taken together, our collective efforts will move us toward a safer, stronger, and more just America. To read the full White House Alternatives, Rehabilitation, and Reentry Strategic Plan, click here. Its elements, reflecting the current and future work of the federal government, include:
Expanding Access to Health Care. Pursuant to the SUPPORT Act of 2018, on April 17, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a new section 1115 demonstration opportunity to allow Medicaid coverage for select services provided to certain incarcerated persons in the period shortly before expected release from jail or prison. For Medicare, in November 2022, CMS issued a final rule establishing a special enrollment period for formerly incarcerated individuals so they can enroll up to 12 months following their release from a correctional facility and avoid potential gaps in coverage or late enrollment penalties. With support from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is working to expand access to medications for opioid use disorder in federal custody, and in state and local facilities through federal funding.
Expanding Access to Safe and Affordable Housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched a new initiative that will provide 62 communities, including in rural areas, with $486 million in grants and 3,300 rental assistance vouchers to implement proven, cost-effective approaches to solving unsheltered homelessness, including in rural areas, by connecting people to housing and voluntary supportive services. The White House Domestic Policy Council and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness have also announced a state and local initiative to expedite efforts to shift from criminalizing homelessness to ensuring housing access. In the coming months, HUD will take steps to implement changes in its regulations and guidance to reduce barriers to HUD programs to ensure that applicants with criminal history records are fairly screened at admission, using holistic individualized assessments, to avoid unnecessary denials, and to enhance public safety for all.
Developing and Amplifying Educational Opportunities. Beginning on July 1, 2023, the Department of Education (ED) will implement changes resulting from a 2020 federal law that could allow an estimated 760,000 persons to become eligible for a Pell Grant through prison education programs. The Department of Commerce’s (DOC) State Digital Equity Planning Grant, funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), will provide $60 million to states and Puerto Rico to plan investments in digital literacy and equity programs for underserved communities, including current and formerly incarcerated persons.
Expanding Access to Government-Issued Identification. The Department of Transportation, with support from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and DOJ, will engage with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which represents all state licensing agencies, to survey jurisdictions for a toolkit of best practices for providing state-issued identification for eligible persons with criminal history records. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is coordinating with other federal agencies to support eligible formerly incarcerated individuals seeking to access the documents they need to obtain a state-issued identification card, such as working with the Social Security Administration to extend the timeframe during which incarcerated persons can request their Social Security Cards from six months prior to release to one year.
Expanding Access to Food and Subsistence Benefits. Studies show that increased access to economic supports is associated with reduced recidivism for people returning home from jail and prison. The Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service will provide technical assistance and issue guidance to SNAP state agencies promoting program flexibilities, including an administrative waiver that allows them to accept and process SNAP applications before someone is released from jail or prison. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families will take action to improve Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), such as refocusing TANF funds for use on basic assistance, employment and training, and family strengthening services for parents and their families experiencing the greatest economic needs. In February 2023, the SSA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to remove food from the calculation of In-Kind Support and Maintenance in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. If the rule is adopted, SSI payments would not be reduced when eligible individuals, including eligible formerly incarcerated persons, receive food from family or friends.
Capping the Cost of Intrastate Calls to and from Jails and Prisons. In March 2023, the Federal Communications Commission published a proposed rule that, if finalized, will cap the cost of intrastate calls to and from people in jails and prisons.
Expanding Access to Business Capital. The Small Business Administration will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking, that, if adopted, would remove barriers to eligibility for people with criminal history records who want to start a small business.
Expanding Federal Job Opportunities. In 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration reinvigorated and expanded the Second Chance Fellow program, and DOJ welcomed two Second Chance Fellows. Building upon this success, ED will launch its first-ever Second Chance fellowship in FY23. This summer, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will issue final rules implementing the Fair Chance Act, expanding the positions covered by the federal government’s “ban the box” policy and establishing new due process and accountability measures for hiring officials who are alleged to violate it. OPM will leverage its newly launched Chief Diversity Officers Executive Council, along with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, to help agencies establish tailored work plans, leadership groups, and metrics for enhancing federal employment opportunities for qualified workers with criminal history records.
Creating Good-Quality Jobs. The Department of Energy (DOE), DOC, and DOT are encouraging their respective competitive grant recipients, where appropriate, including those funded by the BIL, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act, to employ qualified workers who face systemic barriers to quality employment, including those with criminal history records.
Enhancing National Service. AmeriCorps will revise its policy to enable national service participants to request an extension to use their earned education awards if they were incarcerated and clarify the limited scope of criminal history precluding participation in national service programs.
Expand Access to Banking and Other Financial Services. To explore avenues for expanding access to consumer financial products and services, including for justice-involved persons, the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) will: outline how recipients may leverage the American Rescue Plan’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund programs; convene recipients of its Community Development Financial Institutions Fund and Minority Deposit Institutions to explore potential paths through which Treasury can encourage or help expand access to capital and bank accounts for justice-involved persons; convene relevant external stakeholders and financial regulators to develop recommendations on how to improve access; convene a public meeting of the Financial Literacy and Education Commission in April 2023 to discuss the challenges justice-involved persons face when trying to access banking and capital, as well as the implications of lack of credit and fines and fees; and more.
Supporting Veterans. Beginning in 2023, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will require quarterly VA benefits outreach to incarcerated veterans in federal and state facilities to augment VA’s Homeless and Justice-Involved Veteran Outreach Program, ensuring awareness of available benefits and services. For veterans who are homeless or at risk of it, VA’s newly launched Legal Services for Veterans Grant Program will fund legal services to help meet their underlying needs concerning housing stability, including civil matters and criminal case-related barriers such as sealing and expunging records.
Supporting Tribal Members. Using Tiwahe funding requested in the FY24 budget, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs will fund Tribal efforts to prevent and reduce Native youth involvement in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems by improving Native youth well-being and educational, health, housing, employment, childcare, and cultural connection outcomes.
Encouraging Private Sector Hiring. DOC will partner with the Department of Labor (DOL) and external stakeholders later this year to highlight employers that are excelling at and benefiting from hiring and retaining justice-impacted individuals and to encourage other employers to join this effort. Similarly, DOE and DOL will convene a roundtable later this year to spotlight promising practices and partnerships between union and trade associations, workforce development programs, and reentry organizations. SBA will host an event in partnership with small business owners who have successfully hired people with arrest or conviction records. DHS will electronically publish general information on the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), necessary for jobs in secure areas in ports facilities and vessels, to include guidance on eligibility, including for those with criminal history records; how to apply for a TWIC; and opportunities to seek redress if a TWIC is initially denied.
Addressing harmful and unlawful fines and fees. This month DOJ issued a Dear Colleague Letter for state and local courts and juvenile justice agencies on common court-imposed fines and fees practices, and cautions against those practices that may be unlawful, unfairly penalize individuals who are unable to pay, or otherwise have a discriminatory effect. DOJ will build a best practices guide highlighting innovative work by states and court leaders.
Reduce barriers for eligible voters. Most people in jail are eligible to vote, since jails primarily detain people awaiting trial, who have not been convicted of any crime, or those serving misdemeanor sentences that do not preclude voting. In May 2022, DOJ released a guide to state voting rules that apply after criminal convictions and will provide guidance on state-specific voter rights for incarcerated persons and promote strategies to reduce barriers for eligible voters.
Supporting Sealing and Expungement. DOJ has requested $15 million in the President’s FY24 budget to help young people expunge, seal, or vacate their juvenile records in accordance with state laws and policies and has clarified that two existing grants can be used to support similar efforts.
The private sector; state, Tribal, local, and territory governments; academia; and nonprofit and community groups must also take action to improve public safety and the criminal justice system. Taken together, our collective efforts will move us toward a safer, stronger, and more just America.