How have our past three presidents helped former felons

Review of how President Trump, Obama and Bush have made assisting former felons with reentry resources a priority for their administrations.

Presidents helping ex felons

In 2008, the NY Times noted that there was a shift in attitudes towards prison reform with a growing embrace for re-entry programs. Recognizing the need to reduce recidivism, politicians aligned with faith and community groups to make a difference through second chances. The Bush administration made rehabilitation a central goal of the federal justice system. In a sign of how far the pendulum had began to swing, the measure passed Congress with nearly unanimous bipartisan support. Thankfully this effort has continued with the Obama and Trump administrations. What can the formerly incarcerated, prospective employers and community supporters learn from the efforts of our past three presidents?

President Trump’s First Step Act to provide former felons with reentry programs

“Americans from across the political spectrum can unite around prison reform legislation that will reduce crime while giving our fellow citizens a chance at redemption.”

– President Donald J. Trump

According to the White House briefing on The First Step Act, The Trump Administration is committed to helping prisoners successfully rejoin society after their release. They have proposed over $500 million for programs including: reentry programs, inmate education, and occupational training programs through the Department of Justice. As well as, funding to improve employment outcomes for formerly incarcerated adults and young adults through the Department of Labor.

President Obama’s Fair Chance Business Pledge to provide former felons with access

“Now, a lot of time, [a] record disqualifies you from being a full participant in our society — even if you’ve already paid your debt to society.  It means millions of Americans have difficulty even getting their foot in the door to try to get a job much less actually hang on to that job.  That’s bad for not only those individuals, it’s bad for our economy.  It’s bad for the communities that desperately need more role models who are gainfully employed.  So we’ve got to make sure Americans who’ve paid their debt to society can earn their second chance.” 

– President Barack Obama

President Obama created The Fair Chance Business Pledge. The pledge represents a call-to-action for all members of the private sector to improve their communities by eliminating barriers for those with a criminal record and creating a pathway for a second hance. Along with the pledge, Obama’s administration is promoting a rule from the Office of Personnel Management that will “ban the box,” delaying inquiries into criminal history until later in the federal hiring process. Obama’s efforts were met with eager support from many huge companies who signed with the intent to give the formerly incarcerated a second chance.

Why do former felons need the support of the president?

Around 70 million Americans have some sort of criminal record — almost one in three Americans of working age. Too often, that record disqualifies individuals from being a full participant in their communities — even if they’ve already paid their debt to society. As a result, millions of Americans have difficulty finding employment. 

President George W Bush and the Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative

“America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”

– President George W. Bush

President Bush announced his Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative (PRI) designed to assist ex-prisoners and the communities to which they return. Building upon the Ready4Work project developed by The Department of Labor. Ready4Work provides mentoring and transition services for those re-entering society from prison through partnership with faith-based and community organizations. According to the White House, findings show that Ready4Work participants returned to prison at rates 44 percent lower than the 10.4 percent national rate of re-incarceration after one year of release.

Then secretary of Labor Elaine Chow stated, “We know that the long-term financial costs of re-incarceration far exceed the cost of reentry programs. But that isn’t even the most important reason. The heaviest cost is the loss of human dignity when people are living lives of poverty, addiction, and despair. We must — and we can — break that cycle. And faith-based and community organizations possess unique and invaluable strengths to help us reach out to those most in need.”

Helping former felons reintegrate requires a group effort

While it is difficult to find consensus on political issues, the policies of our past three presidents and bi-partisan efforts in those congresses, we can see the need to work together on this issue. Recidivism is extremely costly when the victims, damages and recurrence are tallied together. The toll of crime on families, communities and our nation as a whole is extensive. When we stop to take a look at how we treat offenders, we can join with our past three presidents in asking whether our approach to crime is making a positive impact. Through resources such as United Purpose Network, the formerly incarcerated, their families and communities can work together to unlock the keys to success.