Source: United States Department of Justice
This week, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice completed its hearings on reentry, with panels on getting back to work and transitioning from institution to community. The Commission also hosted a hearing on grant programs, featuring perspectives from the field. The hearings were held over three days via teleconference. Each teleconference featured expert witnesses who provided testimony and, subsequently, answered questions from the Commissioners.
On Tuesday, April 28, the Commission received testimony from BJay Pak, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia; Nate Brown, Director of Programs for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, and; John Wetzel, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
Testimony and discussions focused on returning to work after incarceration. U.S. Attorney Pak discussed adapting the Credible Messenger program to reentry. “Prior to release, participants in the [correctional] facility complete classes in job training, soft skills & financial literacy.” Mr. Brown testified that, “the stigma of a felony conviction and its long term effects can be crippling. It is the goal of everyone invested in reentry to help these men and women overcome these issues for themselves, their families and their communities.” Secretary Wetzel provided the final testimony of the day, urging the Commission to look at re-entry as a continuum and a process that begins at a person’s entry into a correctional facility.
On Wednesday, April 29, the Commission concluded its hearing on reentry with testimony from Tim Johnson, Founder and President of the Orlando Serve Foundation; Jay Sanders, Assistant Commissioner for the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council; Steven Perkins, Warden for the Georgia Department of Corrections Metro Reentry Facility, and; Jean Wright II., Psy.D. Director of Behavioral Health and Justice Related Services for the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disability Services
Testimony and discussion focused on transitioning from incarceration to the community. Mr. Johnson spoke about his organization, Orlando Serve Foundations. “Through our events and our focus on compassionate restorative social justice, we are influencing change within the criminal justice system, improving the community relations with law enforcement, and helping to lift people out of poverty…” Assistant Commissioner Sanders discussed the efforts the Georgia prison system is taking to reduce recidivism rates. “Every individual that enters the Georgia prison system is assessed for their risk and needs using the Next Generation Assessment (NGA). The NGA is a proprietary assessment tool… [that] uses over 300 factors about the offender…” Warden Perkins explained: “It is important to positively affect thinking patterns and behaviors prior to release in order to help these individuals refrain from recidivating. Reentry begins at the time of sentencing, and the purpose of Metro [Reentry Facility] is to put into play the best practices and enhance them as we prepare these men to reenter society – ready to face the challenges that may come, knowing that they can handle whatever they may face and do so successfully.” Dr. Wright testified to the importance of family in breaking the cycle of crime. “We need to develop more creative reentry/reintegration programs that address the myriad of social determinants that impact whether a child has access to both parents, especially access to fathers, even if/when incarceration plays a key role in the reason for separation.”
On Thursday, April 30, the Commission held its hearing on grant programs with testimony from Jennifer Brinkman, Assistant Director of Criminal Justice Programs, Tennessee Department of Administration and Finance; Jackson County (Texas) Sheriff J. Louderback, and; Redondo Beach (Calif.) Police Chief Keith Kauffman.
Testimony and discussion focused on perspectives from the field. Assistant Director Brinkman testified that the grant process can be time consuming and arduous for many applicants. She recommends streamlining the application and reporting process across federal agencies and programs. Sheriff Louderback also stressed the need to simplify the grant process. There are tremendous reporting requirements, the applications are too long, and the wait, which can be eight months or a year, is not efficient. Chief Kauffman reinforced the complexity of writing grants – that they are time consuming and constantly pull him away from his law enforcement duties; however, grants also propel him, because they allow law enforcement agencies to do their jobs better.
For more information on the Commission, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/ag/presidential-commission-law-enforcement-and-administration-justice.
Audio recordings and transcripts of the hearings will be posted online once available.