SEPTEMBER 28, 2011
In what could be viewed as a waste of taxpayer resources during a financial crisis, Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has distributed $83 million in “second chance” grants to ensure that prison inmates become “productive, law-abiding citizens” upon completing their sentence.It’s part of an innovative plan devised last year by Attorney General Eric Holder to help convicts who may have difficulty integrating into society after serving time for major crimes. Holder created a special Federal Interagency Reentry Council he claims will help reduce recidivism, save taxpayer dollars in the long run and make communities safer.How? By bringing together numerous federal agencies to assist those returning from jail in becoming productive citizens. This, in turn, will save taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration. Reentry council members include several Obama cabinet secretaries, including Ken Salazar of the Department of the Interior, Kathleen Sebelius at Health and Human Services, Tom Vilsack at the Department of Agriculture, Hilda Solis at the Labor Department and Arne Duncan at the Department of Education.Together they work to assist former inmates by, among other things, ensuring that they have access to federal benefits immediately upon release to “help stabilize the critical first days and weeks after incarceration.” Announcing the multi-million-dollar grant this week, Holder stressed that “we must use every tool at our disposal to tear down the unnecessary barriers to economic opportunities and independence so that formerly incarcerated individuals can serve as productive members of their communities.”The announcement came with a special brochure (“Reentry Myth Busters”) warning employers and others about laws that protect the “formerly incarcerated” when seeking jobs, housing and federal assistance or benefits, voting rights and Medicaid eligibility. The new publication insinuates that employers who don’t hire convicts violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion or sex. The reasoning is that automatically barring everyone with a criminal record is likely to limit the employment opportunities of workers because of their race or ethnicity.Here is another great myth buster. The federal government does not have a policy that precludes employment of people with criminal records from all positions. In fact, the federal government frequently employs people with criminal records as long as they have the “requisite knowledge, skills and abilities.” Agencies are actually required to consider people with criminal records when filling positions if they are the best candidates.Also noted is that most states don’t enforce a federal lifetime ban on convicted drug felons receiving welfare benefits. The states that bother to enforce the ban are listed so convicts can avoid them upon release. They include Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, South Dakota and West Virginia. Another myth buster is that people can get food stamps without an official state identification or a mailing address.
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