Joe Biden

FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Celebrates Second Chance Month Announcing New Actions to Strengthen Public Safety, Improve Rehabilitation in Jails and Prisons, and Support Successful Reentry

April 25, 2024

America was founded on the promise of new beginnings. Yet, for people returning home to their communities from jail or prison, obstacles often stand in the way of turning this promise into a reality. Having a criminal record can make it hard to secure a steady job, safe housing, affordable health care, or quality education — all important to building a good life. More than 60 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are unemployed one year after being released, and formerly incarcerated people are ten times more likely than the general population to be homeless.

These barriers matter to an enormous number of Americans: One in three U.S. adults has been arrested by age 23, and over 70 million Americans have a criminal history record. Forty percent of all children in the United States have at least one parent with a criminal record. Every year, more than 650,000 people are released from State and Federal prisons, many with limited resources to start their new lives. Elected officials of both parties, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that when the basic needs of those returning to communities are met, we do not just empower formerly incarcerated people — we prevent crime and make our communities safer.

Each April, the Biden-Harris Administration celebrates Second Chance Month, recognizing the important role of individuals, communities, and agencies across the country in supporting the safe and successful reentry of people returning from jails and prisons each year. As the Biden-Harris Administration opens new doors, it also slows the revolving door, reducing the number of people returning to jail or prison once they leave.

The Biden-Harris Administration is announcing two actions this week:

Removing Barriers for Entrepreneurs. The Small Business Administration (SBA) provided more than $50 billion in loans to small businesses across the country in Fiscal Year 2023. Today, the SBA finalized a rule that will eliminate the bar on accessing SBA funds for people on probation or parole. The rule also eliminates a deterrent to seeking loans by eliminating standard questions about one's criminal background from SBA loan forms. Expanding access to entrepreneurship facilitates successful reentry of formerly incarcerated individuals while also creating economic growth that benefits the whole nation. Under SBA programs, lenders will continue to conduct individualized reviews that address fraud risks and assess the creditworthiness of borrowers.

Remedying Unjust Sentences. Yesterday, President Biden again used his constitutional authority to uphold the values of redemption, rehabilitation, and fairness by issuing 11 pardons and 5 commutations for individuals convicted of non-violent drug offenses who have demonstrated a commitment to rehabilitation. The President has exercised his clemency power more than any recent predecessor at this point in their presidency with 122 commutations and 20 pardons to date. The Biden-Harris Administration will continue to review clemency petitions and deliver reforms that advance equal justice, address racial disparities, strengthen public safety, and enhance the wellbeing of all Americans.

These actions build on extensive actions from Day One through 2024, including:

Connecting Formerly Incarcerated Individuals to Good Jobs: As part of the Administration's Good Jobs Initiative, competitive grant programs providing hundreds of billions of dollars now offer competitive preferences for grantees to provide high-quality jobs for qualified workers who face systemic barriers to employment, including those with criminal history records. By July 2024, the Department of Labor (DOL) will also award nearly $40 million in grants through its Growth Opportunities Program for paid work experiences, training, mentorship, and other services specifically for incarcerated young people transitioning into the workforce. That effort is in addition to DOL's recent announcement of $52 million for re-entry services for individuals leaving state or local prisons and jails.

Supporting Veterans. To help fulfill the country's sacred obligation to care for America's veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has strengthened its Homeless and Justice-Involved Veteran Outreach Program, helping to ensure that veterans who are or have been involved in the criminal justice system learn about the services and benefits available to them for successful reentry. VA also changed its policies to require quarterly outreach to veterans incarcerated in federal and state facilities. In fiscal year 2023, VA provided over 2,682 hours of outreach dedicated to veterans who may have been involved with the justice system. By mid-March of fiscal year 2024, the VA already completed over 1,060 hours of outreach dedicated to such veterans.

Expanding Access to Government-Issued Identification. Because people often leave jail or prison without the state-issued identification that is often needed to secure housing and employment, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has successfully developed a new Release ID Card that provides U.S. citizens leaving BOP custody a temporary form of official identification. As of April 2024, 21 states allow U.S. citizens to use their Release ID Card to help obtain state identification.

Addressing a Failed Approach to Marijuana. Sending people to prison for marijuana possession has upended too many lives for conduct that is now legal in many states. Following his October 2022 pardon of prior federal and D.C. offenses of simple possession of marijuana, in December 2023, the President issued a Proclamation that pardoned additional offenses of simple possession and use of marijuana under federal and D.C. law, as well certain violations under the Code of Federal Regulations involving simple marijuana. These full, categorical pardons lift barriers to housing, employment, and educational opportunities for thousands of people.

Making Higher Education More Accessible and Affordable. The Second Chance Pell initiative provides need-based Pell Grants to people in federal and state prisons to obtain high-quality postsecondary education in prison and after release. As a result, in the past financial aid year, more than 17,443 students enrolled in a postsecondary degree or certification program through the initiative. The Department of Education (ED) continues to expand its Second Chance Pell Initiative with the Prison Education Program. Last year, 6,036 students obtained a postsecondary degree or certificate through the initiative, and ED predicts that number to grow in the coming years. The Prison Education Program has the potential to reach over 760,000 individuals who are incarcerated and eligible for a Pell Grant. AmeriCorps has also made it easier for members and volunteers to use the education awards they earn during national service to pay for education and repay their student loans after being incarcerated. Earlier this month, the Department of Education announced a new path for student loan borrowers who are incarcerated to exit default through consolidation, providing them access to improve their credit and better repayment options than ever before. This provides incarcerated borrowers an additional pathway out of default and will provide options for such borrowers to lower their monthly payments and in some cases get loan forgiveness. For example, after consolidating their loans out of default, borrowers can access the newest repayment plan – the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan. The SAVE plan lowers monthly payments to as little as $0 a month based on a borrower's income and family size.

Expanding Access to Health Care. Last year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a new demonstration opportunity that allows Medicaid coverage for select services, including substance abuse disorder services, for certain incarcerated persons in the period shortly before release from jail or prison. For Medicare, in November 2022, CMS issued a final rule establishing a special enrollment period for formerly incarcerated individuals so they can enroll up to 12 months following their release from a correctional facility, enabling them to avoid potential gaps in coverage or late enrollment penalties. Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services also announced the availability of $51 million for the first-ever funding opportunity for health centers to implement innovative approaches to support transitions in care for people leaving incarceration. Health centers can provide health services to incarcerated individuals who are expected to be or are scheduled for release within 90 days to help ensure they continue to receive care as they move back to their communities.

Implementing the First Step Act of 2018. The First Step Act of 2018 was the culmination of a bipartisan effort to improve rehabilitation for people in federal custody, facilitate successful reentry, safely reduce the size of the federal prison population, and strengthen public safety and equal justice. Since 2021, BOP has finalized and implemented several changes to maximize the availability of good and earned time credits for eligible people in federal custody, to expedite the calculation and application of those credits, and to give people in custody the ability to track their time credits. Between January 2022 and April 1, 2024, a total of 31,925 individuals have been released from prison under the First Step Act due to credits earned for good behavior.

Reducing the Use of Criminal History in Federal Jobs and National Service. In August 2023, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued rules that prohibit federal agencies from requesting an applicant's criminal history information in most circumstances before the agency makes a conditional offer of employment; expanded the positions covered by this "ban the box" policy; and established a complaint process and accountability measures for hiring officials who are alleged to violate it. AmeriCorps has limited the use of criminal history checks to their intended purposes so that justice-involved individuals who do not pose a danger to vulnerable populations have an opportunity to give back to their communities through national service.

Addressing Harmful and Unlawful Fines and Fees. Last April, DOJ issued a Dear Colleague Letter for state and local courts and juvenile justice agencies on common court-imposed fines and fees practice. The letter cautions against those practices that may be unlawful, unfairly penalize individuals who are unable to pay, or otherwise have a discriminatory effect. Building on this letter, in November 2023, DOJ released a report that highlights the most common and innovative approaches taking place across the country to reduce reliance on criminal and civil fines and fees. DOJ also launched a new initiative that provides training and assistance to jurisdictions to address common barriers to creating a more equitable justice system by rethinking the use of fines and fees.

Reducing Recidivism Through Prison Programs. Since 2021, the BOP has added 19 new recidivism-reduction programs and expanded existing reentry and treatment programs related to adjustment, recidivism reduction, and psychological symptoms and distress for the BOP population. In March 2021, 26,251 of 124,509 (21%) incarcerated persons had participated in at least one such program. In March 2024, partly due to program expansions and partly due to the end of COVID-19 restrictions, 48,160 of 127,367 incarcerated persons (38%) had participated in at least one program.

Joseph R. Biden, FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Celebrates Second Chance Month Announcing New Actions to Strengthen Public Safety, Improve Rehabilitation in Jails and Prisons, and Support Successful Reentry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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