More than 700 people representing a variety of practitioners in the criminal justice field came together earlier this month at the Fourth Annual Second Chance Act Conference to share experiences and strategies for improving outcomes for those returning home from incarceration.
The three-day conference, hosted by the National Reentry Resource Center with support from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), featured officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, criminal justice experts, practitioners, administrators, and representatives from organizations and agencies receiving funding through the Second Chance Act (SCA).
“I truly believe that years from now, people will look back at this time in history as the renaissance in criminal justice thinking,” BJA Director Denise O’Donnell said during her opening remarks. “A time when we transformed the system through data-driven, evidence-based strategies and programs. A time where we sought to innovate, evaluate and measure outcomes.”
The annual conference provides practitioners with the key tools that they will need to make the most of their SCA grant dollars and helps ensure that grant recipients are developing and implementing successful reentry strategies, programs, and services. At the event, participants attended plenaries where field experts and practitioners and national leaders presented on topics, including: Integrating Risk Reduction Strategies and Behavioral Health Services; Integrating Reentry and Employment Strategies; Establishing Developmentally Appropriate Juvenile Justice Interventions; Second Chances in Action, and more.
“This is a time of great opportunity in criminal justice,” said Tom Stickrath, Superintendent of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Chair of the Council of State Governments Justice Center Board. “Never before have we had such robust discussion about offender reentry; and never before have we had state corrections systems so focused on reducing recidivism. Never before have we seen so much positive work across the nation that looks at the intersection of criminogenic needs and behavioral health factors. And, never before have we known about what works and what doesn’t work.”
Participants attended workshops to build skills and knowledge to assist them in implementing their programs. More than 50 workshops covered a wide range of issues, including building partnerships between corrections and community-based organizations, screening and assessment of criminogenic risks and needs, program evaluation, funding and stability, systems collaboration and more. They also attended workshops in which attendees shared information about their programs and services with others in their state.
Second Chance Act grantees also benefited from interfacing with leading national organizations at the conference’s Resource Exchange. Throughout the conference, representatives from the National Criminal Justice Association, National Institute of Corrections, George Mason University’s Center for Correctional Excellence! (ACE!), MENTOR: National Mentoring Partnership, the Bureau of Justice Assistance – National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC), National Association of Social Workers, and Consulting Services and Research (CSR) engaged grantees by introducing them to tools and resources to help them achieve their program goals. At the Resource Exchange, grantees also met with staff from the Urban Institute and the CSG Justice Center staff to learn about the What Works in Reentry Clearinghouse, an online compendium of research on the effectiveness of a wide variety of reentry programs and practices.
Acting Director Michael Botticelli from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy spoke about the prevalence of substance use disorders among individuals involved with the criminal justice system, the gap between available treatment and need, and strategies used to address these problems.
“Any successful intervention must address substance use disorder as a root cause in the cycle of drug use, arrest, and incarceration,” Acting Director Botticelli said. “We cannot discuss substance use disorder without acknowledging the prevalence of this disease among those in the criminal justice system.”
Participants also heard from Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason of the U.S. Department of Justice, who spoke on the importance of reentry work and the confidence that the Office of the U.S. Attorney General has in Second Chance Act grantees to increase public safety by improving the outcomes for individuals recently released from detention centers, jails and prisons.
“The work that you are doing is central to the safety and prosperity of America’s communities,” she said. “We are counting on you to prove that his [U.S Attorney General Eric Holder] belief and faith in reentry is real and will pay off.”
A recent Bureau of Justice Statistics study reported that about two-thirds of individuals released from prison are arrested for a new crime within three years. The Second Chance Act, signed into law in April 2008, is designed to improve recidivism outcomes, including recidivism rates among adults and youth returning home to their communities after incarceration. Since 2009, nearly 600 Second Chance Act grants, with a total funding amount of over $300 million dollars, have been made to recipients in 49 states and the District of Columbia.