Holder, Obama Officials Discuss Recidivism
By Andrew Ramonas | January 6, 2022 1:21 pm

Attorney General Eric Holder brought together top officials in the administration of President Barack Obama on Wednesday to plan strategy for dealing with the perennial problem of recidivism, the sad reality that many people who come out of prison soon go back behind bars for committing new crimes.

Several cabinet secretaries and White House officials joined Holder at the Re-entry Council launched this year to improve coordination between federal agencies in the fight against prisoner recidivism. The group, which will meet semi-annually, will advance new strategies to help convicts become productive members of society after their incarceration.

“Re-entry provides a major opportunity to reduce recidivism, save taxpayer dollars and make our communities safer,” Holder said in a statement. “More than two million people are behind bars, and 95 percent of them will be released back into their communities. By developing effective, evidence-based re-entry programs, we can improve public safety and community well-being.”

In July, Holder first announced his intention to create the inter-agency group on prisoner recidivism. The Obama administration has made the reduction of recidivism a top priority.

But DOJ prisoner re-entry programs came under fire from the Department’s Inspector General last year. An Inspector General report in July said the DOJ didn’t adequately monitor the effectiveness of programs from the administration of President George W. Bush that were designed to reduce recidivism.

Acting Director James Burch II of the Bureau of Justice Assistance told House members in July that the programs that were scrutinized by the Inspector General are finished. His bureau, a branch of the DOJ, gives local, state and tribal law enforcement agencies funds and support for their initiatives.

He said new programs under the Obama administration’s Second Chance Act Offender Re-entry Initiative would be handled differently and would include “rigorous monitoring efforts and financial control.”

Burch has led the bureau since Domingo S. Herraiz resigned in 2009. Obama re-nominated Denise O’Donnell for the post on Wednesday after the Senate returned her nomination last month. She was nominated Dec. 13, and the Senate Judiciary Committee did not report her out of committee before the Senate adjourned Dec. 22.

Recidivism and what to do about it have been debated for as long as there has been crime. Over the years, some hard-liners on crime have called for locking criminals away and throwing away the key, figuratively speaking. Other authorities on crime have called for better educational programs in prison and other efforts to make prisons something more than warehouses.

And some people have said recidivism will always be a fact of life, since changing the behavior of people — turning bad people into good people, at the risk of over-simplifying — is a difficult goal under the best of circumstances.

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