The federal Bureau of Prisons announced plans to help former federal inmates get back into the workforce after release through a program that will connect them with prospective employers.
A Department of Justice press release explained that the "Ready to Work" program will seek to connect employers directly to inmates with the goal of making re-entry to life after prison smoother and more successful. The release described the initiative as part of the bureau's "holistic approach" to implementing last year's First Step Act, which Congress passed with the intention of lowering criminal recidivism rates at the federal level.
"The Justice Department is committed to fully implementing the First Step Act," Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. "This includes helping offenders successfully reintegrate into the community — a critical factor in preventing recidivism and, in turn, reducing the number of crime victims. Finding gainful employment is an important part of that process."
The DOJ said this initiative's employment efforts will also seek to help the approximately 2,200 inmates now eligible for early early release when changes from the First Step Act go into effect next month. Many of them will also have already received vocational training while serving out their sentences, the department noted.
"Newly-released individuals can provide an untapped source of qualified employees for businesses having difficulty hiring during this strong economy," Acting BOP Director Hugh Hurwitz said, noting the record number of job openings in the U.S. "The BOP is working to strengthen existing, and build new, partnerships with businesses across the country to ensure that inmates have solid employment opportunities upon release."
The bipartisan First Step Act passed Congress in December 2018 and was signed days after passage. It reduced mandatory minimum sentences for some federal crimes while making those convicted of others eligible to earn credits towards early release. It also gives judges more discretion over mandatory minimums and provides for programs and training aimed at reducing recidivism.
While many hailed the law as a long-needed reform to the criminal justice system, others warned about the potential consequences the bill could have on public safety. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) who introduced amendments to tighten the bill's early release eligibility requirements — which failed — voiced concerns that "reducing sentences for drug traffickers and violent felons is a threat to public safety."