East Room

11:01 A.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you, Hannah, for that amazing, amazing introduction, and for your courage, and your bravery, and for being such an extraordinary voice for positive change in America.  We’re proud of you.  We really are.  (Applause.)

I just am — I was deeply moved, as I know you all were, by Hannah’s reflections and the courage she and her mother have shown, and their willingness to lend their voice and their experience to this enormously important national debate.

Before I begin, allow me to address a shooting that took place this morning in Santa Fe High School, Texas.  The President and I have been briefed.  We’ll continue to monitor the situation and we will make all federal resources available to first responders and school officials in the wake of this incident.

But we say to the students, the families, the teachers of Santa Fe High School, and all of those affected in the entire community: We’re with you.  You are in our prayers and I know you are in the prayers of the American people.

To members of the Cabinet, Governor Fallin, Governor Martinez, members of Congress, to all the state leaders gathered here, and to all those working with faith, and compassion, and conviction all across this country, it is my honor to join you here today at this first-ever Prison Reform Summit at the White House.  (Applause.)  Special.

And let me take a moment, specifically, also to thank Jared Kushner for all you’ve done to advance this issue in this administration and across the country.  Jared, you’ve shined a national spotlight on prison reform as never before.  You’ve brought together people from across the political spectrum.  Because of your tireless work and inspiring commitment, I’m confident this will be the White House that reforms the American prison system for the betterment of all the American people.  (Applause.)  Would you join me in thanking Jared Kushner for his great compassion and his great work on this issue?  (Applause.)

As you’ll hear from President Trump in just a few minutes, prison reform is a national priority for the Trump administration.  The President made this clear in his State of the Union Address, when he said that we are fully committed, in his words, “to help former inmates who have served their time to get a second chance.”

During this National Police Week, and every week, we will always stand with the men and women of law enforcement as they work to keep our streets and cities safe.

But we also stand for the principle that once you’ve served your time and paid your debt to society, you deserve a chance to make a difference in your life and in the life of this nation.  (Applause.)  It’s true.

The President has already taken action on this issue.  Earlier this year, he brought prison reform experts and governors to the White House to listen to their thoughts and discuss proposals and successes at the state level.

In March, the President signed an executive order, as all of you know, to establish the Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry, which brings together leaders in our Cabinet across the administration to craft recommendations for prison reform.

And the President also declared April, Second Chance Month, to, in his words, “celebrate those who have exited the prison system and successfully reentered society,” and “encourage expanded opportunities for those who have worked to overcome bad decisions earlier in life…and are willing to work hard to turn their lives around.”

By failing to offer effective pathways to personal reform, the truth is, our current prison system too often misses an opportunity to help people lead productive and fulfilling lives once they walk through the prison gates and return to their communities.  This makes our nation less safe, it drains the public resources, and it too often ruins too many lives.

The statistics are really astounding.  You just heard Hannah recite some of them.  But the statistics that are most heartbreaking to millions of Americans are that, every year, while 650,000 people leave America’s prisons, within three years two-thirds of them are arrested again.  More than half will be convicted; 40 percent will find themselves back where they started, behind bars.  It is a cycle of criminality.  It is a cycle of failure.

This is truly a crisis.  It’s also a crisis of public safety.  It’s driven by poor choices — let’s be clear.  But I believe, as the President does, that it’s also compounded by a lack of opportunity.  We will continue to support law enforcement and hold accountable those who break the law.  Make no mistake about it.  But we will also recognize that too many ex-offenders feel that they have nowhere else to turn but back to a life of crime, once they leave our prison system.

Recognizing this is why our administration is working tirelessly to identify and promote the reforms that will give current prisoners the training and the skills they need to choose and chart a path of self-sufficiency and success.

We’re looking for programs that are grounded in evidence and proven to work.  And as the experts in the room here know, there’s a remarkable range of possibilities in that category.

They include programs that address mental health and drug addiction, as well as those that provide job training and mentorship.  Some are run by government agencies, while others are organized by community groups, by non-profit organizations, and faith-based organizations.

President Trump has already called on federal, state, and local prison systems to move forward with the best reforms, whatever they may be and whatever the source — public, or private, or faith based.  Our administration has been inspired by states like Kentucky and Kansas that have already shown how reform can improve public safety and prisoners’ lives.

And we’ll continue to work with leaders in both political parties in the Congress, the House, and the Senate to advance prison reforms that will make our country safer by offering better choices to those behind bars and to former offenders.

As I close — and Jared reflected on this a moment ago –let me just say that prison reform matters deeply to millions of Americans.  And even in my little family and my life experience, I’ve seen the impact that prison reform can have.

It’s about public safety, first and foremost.  It’s about stopping repeat offenders and getting crime off our streets.  It’s about fiscal responsibility and saving taxpayer dollars that are currently spent on a prison system that costs too much and delivers too little.

But above all else, as I’ve seen firsthand, prison reform is about changing lives and changing communities; about people who made mistakes, who atoned for them, learned from them, who got a second chance and a shot at a better life.

A few years ago, when I was governor of Indiana, I saw the difference prison reform can make.  It was at a Branchville Correctional Facility in Southern Indiana, where, as we speak, a majority of the inmates at Branchville Correctional participate in either faith-based or character-based programs every single day, and it’s making a difference in their lives.

Working with local churches, I witnessed the extraordinary impact that these ministries were having in the lives of these offenders.  And with a combination of workforce training in the same facility, we were not only creating the tools for their hearts to change, but we were giving them the ability to reenter communities and have the kind of relationships in the communities that created pathways for gainful employment.

I mean, truthfully, it was remarkable to watch the symmetry, the relationships that would be built through these programs, through volunteers coming alongside offenders — pouring themselves into the lives of these offenders, building relationships.  And as the offenders developed new skills and new abilities, then they would leave the Branchville Correctional Facility; reenter the community — oftentimes Evansville, Indiana.  And it was those very relationships that would open doors for gainful employment and a fresh start in life.

I mean, I witnessed in our prisons what I’ve known throughout my life: Changed hearts mean changed lives.  (Applause.)

I also saw the impact of faith and mentorship at the Plainfield Correctional Facility, where we established a first-time-ever, first-time offender program in the state of Indiana.  Many of the mentors and volunteers in that program were ex-offenders who had turned over a new leaf after they have put their faith in God.  They’re now answering the call to ministry, to men and women caught up in a life of crime, oftentimes in the very same facility where they spent time.

You know, these changed lives inspire the nation.  But these programs are making a difference in the lives of individuals and in communities every single day.

The truth is, these programs are making America safer by opening doors to second chances to tens of thousands of those who made wrong choices earlier in life.  And I can assure you, we are determined in this administration, with President Trump’s leadership, to seek ways to expand these opportunities to more offenders to the benefit of the nation.

That’s what President Trump and our entire administration are committed to do, and I hope today’s summit gives evidence to that.  With all of your help; with the continued creative leadership of the great governors who are gathered here today, and other state officials; with the extraordinary compassion, and faith, and innovation of those of you who have poured yourselves into the lives of offenders across this country, and facilities across this country; with bipartisan support in the Congress; and with the strong leadership of President Donald Trump, I know we will open pathways to second chances for more Americans and we will make America safer than ever before.  (Applause.)

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.  Thank you for your involvement in this vital issue in the life of the nation.  God bless you all.  (Applause.)

END

11:13 A.M. EDT