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Mr. Mason Bishop
Deputy Assistant Secretary
TESTIMONY OF MASON M. BISHOP DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR THE EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING ADMINISTRATION U. S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY SUBCOMMITTEE ON CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION UNITED STATES SENATE
Dr. Coburn, Ranking Member Durbin, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the Department of Labor's considerable work on prisoner re-entry initiatives. In my testimony today, I will describe the Department of Labor's approach to prisoner re-entry efforts and provide an overview of the Department's work in this area, including the programs and funding sources currently available to state and local governments and community and faith-based organizations for re-entry efforts.
Two philosophical underpinnings exist for all of the Department of Labor's re-entry efforts: (1) employment is the core focus of all efforts and issues such as housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment are addressed in the context of the employment goal; and (2) faith and community-based organizations often possess unique strengths and resources that make them critical partners in addressing these issues. These two underpinnings are embodied in the President's Prisoner Re-entry Initiative (PRI) - which he announced in his January 2004 State of the Union address - as well as other projects funded by the Department of Labor. Since Fiscal Year 2000, the Department of Labor has devoted approximately $371.5 million to prisoner re-entry efforts of various types that I will describe further in my testimony.
II. The Need for Reentry Efforts
There is a great need in this country for programs to assist prisoners returning home to their communities. Each year more than 650,000 inmates are released from Federal and State prisons and return to their communities and families. The return of these ex-prisoners challenges many of the most troubled neighborhoods in America. Without help, a majority of ex-prisoners do in fact return to criminal activity. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, almost three out of five inmates returning to society will be charged with crimes within three years of their release from prison and two out of five will be re-incarcerated.
Released prisoners face myriad challenges that contribute to a return to criminal activity, re-arrest, and re-incarceration. Joblessness among ex-prisoners has been broadly linked to recidivism rates. Statistics demonstrate that even before incarceration, adult prisoners demonstrate weak or non-existent ties to the workforce. Data show that nearly one-third of adult prisoners were unemployed in the month before their arrest.1 Post-incarceration, unemployment among ex-prisoners has been estimated at between 25 and 40 percent. Likewise, prisoners also have low levels of educational attainment. Nineteen percent of adult State prisoners are completely illiterate and 40 percent are functionally illiterate;2 over half of State parole entrants were not high school graduates and as many as eleven percent had only an eighth grade education or less.3
1 Petersilia, 2002. When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry 2 Rubinstien, 2001 as quoted in Petersilia, 2002 3 Petersilia, 2002
In returning to criminal activity, ex-prisoners reduce their chances of living healthy and positive lives for both themselves and their families. Research indicates that parental loss is related to a host of poor outcomes for children that include poverty, drug abuse, educational failure, criminal behavior, and premature death. Healthy and consistent relationships between parents and children strengthen the community by positively impacting both the parent and the child's generations. Ex-offenders who maintain strong family and community ties have greater success in reintegrating into the community and avoiding incarceration.6
III. The President's Prisoner Re-entry Initiative
The President's Prisoner Re-entry Initiative seeks to strengthen urban communities characterized by large numbers of returning prisoners through an employment-centered program that incorporates mentoring, job training, and other comprehensive transitional services. This program is designed to reduce recidivism by helping non-violent ex-offenders find work when they return to their communities as part of an effort to build a life in the community. The Initiative utilizes the unique strengths of faith-based and community-based organizations (FBCOs) and provides a direct link to the communities to which they are returning. In addition, the Department of Justice has held a limited grant competition to conduct pre-release services for program participants in the 20 states where the Department of Labor grants were awarded.
In response to the President's 2005 and 2006 budget requests, Congress has appropriated a total of $54 million for PRI to DOL and DOJ. Competition for DOL's portion of the funding has been robust. DOL received over 500 applications for its first solicitation for grant proposals: of these, 30 were awarded funding in November 2005. Partnerships are a critical component of this project; applicants were asked to describe linkages among the criminal justice system, the public workforce system, the public housing authority, and mental health and substance abuse treatment providers.
The goal is to serve 6,250 released prisoners during the first year of the Initiative. Grantees began operation in March 2006. As of September 8, 2006, 2,874 participants had been enrolled, with 1,469 of these placed into employment. As of September 11, 2006, 686 discrete services had been provided to the target group. We are set to achieve the outcome goals we set for the first year of the initiative. We have also established a rigorous performance tracking system for our grantees, which will allow us to track placement in and retention of employment, and recidivism.
Because employment is a key to an ex-offender's success in re-entering society, we have placed a strong emphasis on job development, contacts with private sector employers, high-growth employment in implementing PRI. Some key best practices that we have identified thus far include the following:
The Talbert House in Cincinnati has thus far provided the most services to released prisoners of the PRI grantees. The Talbert House has served 144 enrollees, provided them with 933 services, and placed 117 of them in jobs. Talbert House was founded 40 years ago with the support of the Catholic Archdiocese, the Southern District of Ohio Presbyterian Church, and Hebrew Union College.
Of the PRI grantees, the Directors Council in Des Moines has placed the largest number of enrollees. Thus far, the Directors Council has served 144 enrollees, provided them with 803 services, and placed 120 of them in jobs. The Directors Council is a collaboration of several community-based organizations that serve the Des Moines area.
The Department has also put in place an 18-month outcome evaluation in order to determine the initiative's effectiveness and to analyze the extensive program data being collected by the 30 grantees. The evaluation will also look at the implementation of an employment-centered re-entry approach in order to gain further insights into successful re-entry practices.
IV. Responsible Reintegration of Youthful Offenders
Other programs funded include state-operated projects aimed at improving the academic and workforce preparation components for youth in correctional facilities; local projects that involve faith-based organizations in assisting released prisoners returning home; locally-operated projects that serve youth returning home from correctional facilities and first-time offenders assigned to alternative sentences; projects targeting both Hispanic and African American at-risk youth in several cities; and two projects aimed at serving at-risk Native American youth. Lessons learned from these demonstration projects have been incorporated into the design of PRI.
Some states are considering improvements in their educational offerings at correctional facilities because of lessons learned from these grants. Examples of this include Virginia picking up the funding of the DOL grant project at the first facility served by the grant; Michigan considering adding counselors at its other juvenile facilities; and California considering adding career academies similar to the one started under the DOL grant at other California youth correctional facilities.
Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI): DOL collaborated with the Departments of Justice, HHS, Education, and HUD to focus on the increasing number of offenders who are being released from prisons, jails or court-affiliated training schools through the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI). This initiative was designed to reduce further criminal activity by violent ex-offenders upon their return to their communities through job training and supportive services in preparation for gainful employment.
Ready4Work: Ready4Work is a three-year ex-offender re-entry demonstration project overseen by ETA and the DOL Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (CFBCI) and is funded by DOL, DOJ, and a consortium of private foundations. Ready4Work uses community and faith-based organizations to help people returning from prison find jobs and assist their transition back into their communities. The core components of the program model include case management, job readiness training, job placement assistance, and faith-based mentoring (either one-on-one, group, or team mentoring). Beyond the core components, Ready4Work sites also provide, typically through partnerships with local community-based organizations, other services as needed, such as assistance with housing needs, substance abuse counseling, or GED classes. It was hoped that the combination of these services would help overcome the barriers ex-offenders face in finding and retaining jobs, which in turn would lead to lower recidivism rates among Ready4Work participants.
Between October 2003 and April 2006, the 11 adult Ready4Work sites have enrolled 4,465 participants and provided services to them for a median of 8 months. During this period, 2,497 Ready4Work participants have been placed in employment, with 1,425 of these participants remaining employed for at least three consecutive months. Moreover, only five percent of participants who have reached their 1-year post-release anniversary have returned to prison.
During the project's third and final year, statistics comparing Ready4Work's six-month and one-year known recidivism rates with the Bureau of Justice Statistics' expected recidivism rates for the population Ready4Work serves are promising. The known recidivism rate among Ready4Work participants is 38% lower than the rate stated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics at six months after release and 48% lower at one year after release. The three-year budget for this project is $24.9 million, of which $17.5 million was provided by DOL.
V. Leveraging WIA Formula Dollars
Targeted funding for re-entry efforts allow the Department to test innovative strategies and approaches. However, in order to sustain these efforts, States and local governments need to leverage the resources they receive on an annual basis under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA). Formula dollars allocated to states for the WIA Youth and Adult programs can be used to serve this important population. For example, in Montgomery County, Maryland, the Director of the Local Workforce Investment Board collaborated with the Director of Corrections for Montgomery County to establish a One-Stop Career Center within the local jail. WIA funds support half of the salary of the staff person at this center. Inmates at the jail contributed $22,000 from their own funds raised from canteen sales towards establishing the Center and the purchase of computers. The inmates consider supporting the Center as an investment in itself and are very proud of their role in establishing and maintaining the center. Montgomery County also uses non-WIA funds to support a case manager dedicated to serving ex-offenders at a One-Stop Center located outside the jail.
VI. Other Programs and Initiatives
A. Tax Credits and Bonding
The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a Federal tax credit that encourages employers to hire eight targeted groups of job seekers by reducing employers' Federal income tax liability by as much as $2,400 per qualified new worker. Among the targeted groups are ex-felons from low-income families. The WOTC expired at the end of 2005 and legislation is pending before Congress to extend the credit retroactively to the beginning of 2006.
B. Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program (IVTP): The Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act (P.L. 107-95) amended Title 38 U.S.C. to revise, improve and consolidate provisions of law providing benefits and services to homeless veterans. Section 2023 of the Act mandated a "Demonstration Program of referral and counseling for veterans transitioning from certain institutions who are at risk of homelessness." The demonstration program was to be carried out by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Secretary of Labor in at least six locations (one of the locations was to be in a penal institution under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Prisons).
The second approach was to train 120 Local Veterans' Employment Representative (LVER) staff members and Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists to facilitate workshops for incarcerated veterans. Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Virginia, and Washington were identified as potential pilot states. In five of those states, LVER staff members and DVOP specialists currently are providing IVTP workshops at correctional facilities within the states. Of the 836 participants that took part in the workshops in FY 2005, 827 were enrolled in case management, 671 were referred to One-Stop Career Centers, 262 individuals entered employment and 320 received VA services.
VII. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION.
As evidenced by my written testimony, the Department of Labor has considerable program oversight for initiatives assisting prisoners in returning to the labor force, including an integral part of the President's Prisoner Re-entry Initiative (PRI) along with the Departments of Justice and HUD. The President's 2007 budget for the Department of Labor includes $19.6 million for the third year of funding of this four-year initiative.
Unfortunately, neither the House nor Senate Committee-reported Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bills include this important funding. Without continued funding for PRI, we are concerned that much of the progress that has been made will be lost. We will continue to work with Congress to secure funding for this critical initiative.
The Department is also aware of pending legislation - S. 1934 and H.R. 1704, the "Second Chance Act" - which would authorize additional funding for prisoner re-entry initiatives primarily by state and local governments. The Department recommends that faith-based and community groups be explicitly included in any legislation including the "Second Chance Act" bills.