The President Speaks on the Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Formerly Incarcerated Individuals

The President Speaks on the Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Formerly Incarcerated Individuals


The President: Well good
afternoon everybody. (applause) It is good to be in Newark. (applause) Let me first of all
thank the Chancellor, Nancy Cantor for
hosting us here today. Where’s Nancy? (applause) There she is. (applause) Your Mayor, Ras Baraka. (applause) Who’s here. (applause) Your Senator, Cory
Booker is in the house. (applause) Where did Cory go? He’s around — there
he is, right here. (applause) Your Congressman,
Donald Payne, Jr. (applause) You know — (laughter) — over the course
of this year, I’ve been talking to people
all across the country about reforming our criminal
justice system. To be fair, to be smarter,
to be more effective. I’ve met with Police
Chiefs and beat cops. I’ve met with prisoners,
corrections officers. I’ve met with families of
fallen police officers and families of children who
were killed by gun violence. I’ve met with men and women
battling drug abuse and rehab coaches and folks
working on new solutions for treatment. And, I have to tell
you that from all these conversations, I
have, at times, despaired about the
magnitude of the problem. I’ve asked myself, how do
we break the cycle that has young children somehow on
that pipeline where they end up incarcerated? And yet, what’s
interesting is, I’ve been really hopeful as
well during the course of year, because what I’ve seen
is that there are people across the board. Folks who work inside the
criminal justice system, folks who are affected by
the criminal justice system, who are saying, “There’s
got to be a better way to do this.” And are not just asking
questions about how we make the system smarter and
more effective but are also showing us how it’s done and
are actually implementing it. This afternoon, I spent,
with the Mayor and Senator Booker getting a firsthand
look at how Newark is helping to lead the way. And as a partner in our
— My Brother’s Keeper initiative, the Mayor, the
Senator, the Congressman, and others are working in
public-private partnership to focus on disrupting the
pipeline from underfunded schools to
overcrowded jails. Here in Newark, when it
comes to rehabilitating prisoners, and reintegrating
former inmates into society, you’ve got organizations
that are doing extraordinary work. And that’s why I wanted
to focus here today. Because places like
Integrity House, the work that’s being
done and our federal, the new program through the
district court and our US Attorney’s Office. They are accomplishing
extraordinary things and when you meet folks who are
taking that step to break addiction and overcome
great odds and you see what they’re already accomplished
and what more they’re going to accomplish in the future,
you cannot help but feel hopeful about the future. Now, right now, there are
2.2 million Americans behind bars, 2.2 million. We incarcerate people at a
rate that is unequaled around the world. We account for five percent
of the world’s population, 25 percent of its inmates. They are disproportionally
Black and Latino. As one of Cory’s
Republican colleagues, John Cornyn from
Texas, no, you know, bleeding heart liberal
here likes to point out, “Almost all these
individuals will eventually be released.” More than 600 thousand
inmates are released each year. Around 70 million Americans
have some sort of criminal record, 70 million. That’s almost 1 in 5 of us,
almost 1 in 3 Americans of working age. Now, a lot of time, that
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
for 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
that Americans who’ve paid their debt to society can
earn their second chance. And as I said before, we
spent the day seeing people who were doing just that. Counselors, role officers,
small business owners who were giving folks
a second chance. Federal judges who are,
not only being smart about sentencing but are also
helping to the extent that they are going in
their own pockets, just to help somebody who
is transitioning out get the right clothes for
a job interview. I’ve spoken to men and women
who are part of programs like New Jersey STEP,
here at Rutgers Newark. You’re giving prisoners
a second chance to start taking college courses
before they are released so they can reenter society
with marketable skills. And I’ve had a
chance, as I said, to speak with folks who are
working hard to get back on track. And I just want to
highlight a couple of them. I hope you guys aren’t
embarrassed if you’re here because I’m really proud
of what you’re doing. Daryl Rose was arrested for
a drug related abuse charge in 2013, served six
months in prison, today he’s a member
of Integrity House, that’s a treatment center
that I visited earlier this afternoon, determined to
become a productive citizen. He’s getting the counseling
and support that he needs to achieve his goals and
Daryl’s family is with him every step of the way. So we’re very
proud of Daryl. (applause) I don’t know if
Daryl’s here. Are you here Daryl? (applause) Ashley Sinclair, Ashley is
here today, I know that. Where’s Ashley? Come on, there you are. Stand up Ashley. (applause) Ashley spent most of her
21 years on the streets and involved in crime. Eventually she decided she
wanted something better for herself and joined a
program called Project Hope, impressed everybody
with her work ethic. She earned a place in
the Newark Department of Sanitation and today,
instead of getting in trouble on the streets,
she’s earning a paycheck cleaning up those streets. So, we are proud of Ashley. (applause) We want more success
stories like these. It’s good for everybody. It means less crime. It means less recidivism. It means less money
spent on incarceration. It means less wasted
tax payer money. It means police aren’t
having to arrest the same folks over and over again. It means young people are
seeing in their community people who are working. That in turn creates
economies in most communities that are legal
and not just illegal, which creates redevelopment
for everybody. And now suddenly, businesses
have more customers, which means they are hiring
more and you get a virtuous cycle. And that’s why today, we are
taking two new actions to create more success
stories like this. These are actions that I
can take, as President, through my executive
authorities. Number one, my
administration is announcing new grants to help returning
citizens seize that second chance through education and
job training and housing and legal help and
children’s services. So, the — (applause) — five cities who are
announcing commitments of their own to help folks
reentering society to train for high tech jobs. We’re going to be partnering
with them and others to try to make sure that the good
work we saw here today, we can start expanding. All right, so that’s
point number one, putting some more
money in the system. Let me say, it’s nowhere
near what we need but it gives us more ability to
create more programs that serve as an example of
best practices so it can be duplicated around
the country. That’s point number one. Point number two, I’m taking
action to ban the box. For — (applause) — for the most competitive
jobs at Federal Agencies. Federal government is a
big employer, as you know. And like a lot
of big employers, on job applications, there
is a box that asks if you have a criminal record. If you answer yes,
then a lot of times, you’re not getting
a call back. We’re going to do our
part in changing this. The federal
government, I believe, should not use criminal
history to screen out applicants before we
even look at their qualifications. We can’t dismiss
people out of hand, simply because of a mistake
that they made in the past. And I have to say that,
although this is something I can do on an
executive basis, this is an area
where Cory Booker, working with one of his
Republican colleagues, Ron Johnson, are working
to try to pass federal legislation. A ban the box bill that’s
working its way through the Senate. I believe Congress should
pass legislation that builds on today’s announcement. And keep in mind
some really good, really successful companies
are already doing this. Wal-Mart, Target, Coke
Industries, Home Depot, they’ve already taken
action to ban the box, on their own. And 19 states have
done the same. So, my hope is that with
the Federal Government also taking action, us getting
legislation passed, this becomes a basic
principle across our society. It is relevant to find
out whether somebody has a criminal record. We’re not suggesting
ignoring it. What we are suggesting
is, when it comes to the application, get folks the
change to get through the door. (applause) Give them a chance to get in
there so that they can make their case. Now this is not just the
only step that we can take. Just two weeks ago,
Cory, other Democrats and Republicans moved through
the Senate a bipartisan criminal justice
reform bill. This is a bill that would
reduce mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders. It would invest in
law enforcement. It would reward prisoners
with time off if they complete programs that make
it less likely that they will commit crimes
in the future. And there’s a similar bill
working its way through the House. I urgently encourage both
the Senate and the House to pass these bills. It will not completely
change the system overnight but it will lock in
some basic principles we understand that are going to
make us a fairer and safer society over the long term. And I am very proud of the
work those legislators are doing. I’m especially proud because
it’s not typical that Democrats and Republicans
get together on useful legislation, let’s face it. But, this scenario where
we’ve seen some really strong bipartisan work and
I’m very encouraged by that. There are so many Americans
who desperately want to earn a second chance. I already mentioned
Daryl and Ashley. I’m going to call
out one other person. Daquan Rosario. Where’s Daquan? He’s looking very sharp
in his suit today. (applause) Now, Daquan was arrested for
this first drug charge when he was 17. At 27, he received a 10 year
federal sentence for drug distribution. In his own words, when he
got out and he was homeless, he had no real legitimate
employment history. And it would be easy
to write Daquan off. More importantly, it would
have been easy for Daquan to write himself off,
or at least to say, “There’s nothing
else I know. This is the path
I have to follow.” Going back to the drug
trade that unfortunately, he had been raised in. But something happened
inside of Daquan. So he had a motivation to
say, “I’m going to change.” Which is really
hard to do at 37. It’s even harder to do if
you’ve been through a decade or more of prison. So he got involved with the
Justice Department program called Renew. The federal district
court judge, who presides over this
program, Madeline, stand up. I just want to
give her credit. (applause) The probation officer who
worked with him, Kevin, who helps run this program. (applause) This isn’t my formal remarks
but I just talked with him, I just think that everybody
needs to understand what happened here. So, with the help of our
US Attorney, Paul Fishman, he’s here, Paul, stand up. (applause) The Justice Department,
the federal district court judge, the
probation officer, they all set up a system in
which Daquan has a community encouraging him
to move forward. If he doesn’t have the right
suit for a job application, they’re helping him do that. If he doesn’t have enough
money to eat that week, they’re seeing if they can
scrape something together. If he’s interested in
going back to school, what happened was that,
these folks helped to scrape together school
fees for him, including through the Second
Chance dollars that we generate through the
Justice Department. And, as Daquan just
told me, he said, “Look, I’m not saying that
everything is easy, you’ve got to
want it yourself.” But because of the
investment of these people who are calling him and
bringing in every couple of weeks. And Kevin, his probation
officer is problem-solving with him on an
ongoing basis. Daquan found a job in
medical transportation, then he pursued his
EMT certification. Today, he is an EMT
in Essex County. (applause) And instead of — (applause) — instead of pedaling drugs
that are destroying lives, he’s saving lives. He’s making the
community better. And I just want to highlight
this story because, here you’ve got a situation
where officers of the court: judges, probation officers,
US Attorneys, pastors, community leaders,
business leaders, are all coming
together saying, “What’s the problem we’re
trying to solve here?” The problem we’re trying to
solve is not just to keep on catching people and
putting them back in jail. The problem we’re trying to
solve here is giving people a foundation through
which they can then become productive citizens. And the judge was mentioning
how, when she saw Daquan, or some of the other folks
who have gone through this program graduate, that’s the
best thing that happens to her as a judge. Because she understands
that’s the goal. The goal is to
prevent crime. The goal is to make sure
that folks are fairly punished when they
break the law. But the ultimate goal is
make sure that folks are law-abiding,
self-sufficient, good citizens. And everything we do should
be designed towards that goal. And if we’re going
a good job there — (applause) — then crime will go down,
and it will stay down. That’s our goal. Where everybody has a
chance to contribute. That’s what these
outstanding folks that I met with here today
are committed to. That’s what Mayor
Baraka, Cory Booker, and Don Payne Jr., and
other are committed to. That’s what I’m
committed to. This is not easy. And, as I’ve said before,
we can’t have the criminal justice system carrying the
entire load of solving all of society’s ills. We’re a lot better off if we
catch Daquan when he’s five or 12 or 18 than
when he’s 37. We’re a lot better off if
we’re investing in economic development and housing and
jobs and adequate funding for schools and making
college more affordable on the front end. But Daquan’s story, like the
stories that so many people in this auditorium can tell,
is that it’s not too late. There are people who have
gone through tough times. They’ve made mistakes. But with a little
bit of help, they can get on
the right path. (applause) And that’s what we
have to invest in. That’s what we
have to believe. That’s what we
have to promote. That’s why I’m so proud
of what Newark’s doing and that’s what I hope
everybody learns. Thank you very
much everybody. God bless you. (applause) God bless the United
States of America. Thank you.

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