Today, the Biden-Harris administration took several important actions to mark “Second Chance Month,” which JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA) applauds as they underscore the importance of our mission to decarcerate the U.S. and elevate the voices of directly impacted people across the nation.
The President commuted the sentences of 75 individuals, with three individuals receiving full pardons—the earliest any of the past five U.S. presidents have exercised this executive power for clemency during their presidencies. This is part of the President’s campaign promise to restore integrity to the Office of Pardons.
He also announced the launch of a historic Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Labor (DOL) partnership that invests $145 million of funding through an inter-agency partnership inclusive of job skills training and individualized employment and reentry plans for people incarcerated in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities, and to provide pathways for a seamless transition to employment and reentry support upon release. This is the first time the DOL will bring its job training and reentry support and expertise to federal incarcerated individuals.
JLUSA presented this Administration with a roadmap that identified areas of strategic investments that would significantly affect the lives of those most impacted. These initiatives and roadmap recommendations are key if we are truly going to dismantle the oppressive policies that continue to criminalize a person after a term of incarceration. Some of JLUSA’s recommendations are reflected in these particular highlights from today’s announcement:
“Expanding Access to Health Care”
- The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is proposing to establish a Special Enrollment Period of six months post-release for eligible incarcerated individuals to obtain approval of Medicare.
“Expanding Access to Housing”
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has initiated a six-month review of guidance to increase inclusion of housing for formerly incarcerated people.
“Expanding Access to Business Capital”
- The Small Business Administration (SBA) will remove barriers to the 7(a) and 504 loan programs for formerly incarcerated people.
“Expanding Access to Federal Employment”
- The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will propose regulations and procedures of accountability that remove barriers to federal employment for formerly incarcerated people under the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act.
“Expanding Second Chance Pell”
- The Department of Education (ED) is expanding Second Chance Pell sites by 73 additional schools to bring the total of participating institutions to 204. This expansion of sites will help the Department to prepare for full expansion of Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated students in July 2023.
We are encouraged by these actions, as they continue to confirm that the Administration has been listening to the voices of those directly impacted by the criminal legal system. We look forward to continuing to work with this administration.
Other JLUSA recommendations we continue to lift up:
- Passage of comprehensive emergency management protocols for Federal and State prisons that prioritize the human dignity and safety of people who live and work in these vulnerable settings (via S.2592 – Correctional Facility Disaster Preparedness Act of 2021).
- Passage of the MORE Act in the House of Representatives. MORE is a holistic approach to marijuana legalization that begins to address the oppressive drug laws and policies that have contributed to the disproportionate incarceration of people of color, especially Black people, and the “whitewashing” of the burgeoning cannabis industry.
- Looking forward to passage of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) which would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level and allow states to decide to legalize. Includes provisions for expungement and tax staggering that would help communities impacted by the so-called “war on drugs.”
JustLeadershipUSA is the national nonprofit building a national movement to decarcerate the United States. The organization, led by directly impacted people, is dedicated to doing so by empowering the people and communities most impacted by the criminal justice system to drive, amplify, and sustain policy reform. Learn more about JustLeadershipUSA at jlusa.org.
Stephen Roach Knight