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February 22, 2023

Second chances for prisoners is not just a moral imperative — it’s an economic one

Credit: Washington Examiner

“For years, criminal justice advocates have argued employment is one of the most important benchmarks for people’s reentry after prison to turn their life around successfully. Thankfully, both parties now see second chances as a moral imperative. But as the economy continues to burn hotter than the Federal Reserve would like, we must consider second chances for prisoners an economic imperative too.

Earlier this month, four of my former colleagues, Reps. John Rutherford (R-FL), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), David Trone (D-MD), and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) launched the Second Chances Task Force . It’s a bipartisan effort to advance the commonsense workforce policies I supported during my time in Congress and continue to fight for today.

The task force’s inaugural event, a briefing by Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters, was prescient in a sea of congressional activity that can, at times, feel more reactionary than visionary. Focused on the challenges the BOP faces in maintaining successful reentry programming for the roughly 50,000 people who are released from federal prison each year, the briefing introduced members of Congress from both parties to prison initiatives that can get people back to work once they’ve paid their debt to society.

What’s even better, the task force’s co-founders aren’t just focused on the moral imperative of breaking down barriers for returning citizens — as commendable as that would be on its own. In comments released after the event, Trone, a businessman, emphasized how he understands firsthand the real economic value in hiring returning citizens and pointed out that making it easier for formerly incarcerated people to find and maintain jobs is good for our economy overall. Rochester echoed his sentiments when she talked about post-pandemic economic expansion as an opportunity to make sure we’re not excluding anyone from the workforce.

Their sentiments are backed up by hard data. Shortly after the Second Chances Task Force met for its first time, the Bureau of Labor released its January jobs report, the results of which were both reassuring and a clear call for policymakers to take action. The report found that while the addition of jobs slowed slightly last month, the rate at which our economy is creating new jobs remains strong, particularly in sectors such as construction and hospitality, which lend themselves well to hiring returning citizens. At the same time, unemployment — the pool of people who are not working but would like to — is still at its lowest rate in the past half-century, at just 3.5%.

This means that our nation’s business owners are going to continue struggling to fill jobs for the foreseeable future, which in turn means that they cannot provide the goods and services our economy is demanding, or expand their businesses to create more opportunities in their communities. Unless, of course, congressional lawmakers, led by the Second Chances Task Force, and state policymakers across the nation expand the pool of workers available.

Providing economic opportunities to returning citizens who have served their time or earned early release is an easy solution to the crisis our economy is staring down. It also has the benefit of being the right thing to do.”