On April 22, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order that restores the voting and civil rights of more than 200,000 convicted felons.  The order applies to people who have completed their sentence, including any supervised release, parole or probation requirements.  

Representatives from correctional systems in 12 states came together in early March to set strategies for and share experiences related to reducing recidivism in their states and across the country. Convened by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, or BJA, and The Council of State Governments Justice Center’s National Reentry Resource Center, the 2016 Statewide Recidivism Reduction, or SRR, Forum brought together grantees of the SRR program—one of the Second Chance Act grants offered by BJA, which challenges state correctional systems and their partners to reduce recidivism and serve as models for the rest of the country. BJA officials—including Deputy Director Kristen Mahoney, Associate Deputy Director Ruby Qazilbash and Policy Advisor Andre Bethea—were on hand to discuss best practices.

Following on the heels of an active December that saw Congress avoid a government shutdown, extend tax breaks for Americans and pass education reform, there is hope that President Obama and Congress will carry this unexpected span of bipartisanship into 2016. Although impossible to know with certainty which issues will be tackled, criminal justice reform could be on the list.  

Life in prison is hard—and it’s designed to be that way. But for the 70 million Americans with a criminal record living outside prison walls, life in the community also can be pretty tough. In addition to finding stable housing, reuniting with families and addressing substance abuse issues, individuals with criminal records often face serious barriers to finding a job.

Across the United States, 70 million adults are estimated to have some sort of criminal record. The vast majority of adults who are incarcerated return to the community, and many face multiple barriers to successful reentry, including finding and maintaining employment. There are two primary reasons individuals returning home from prison or jail struggle to find and keep a job: many people have minimal work experience and limited job skills; and policy and legislative barriers, coupled with employer reluctance to hire adults with criminal records, limit employment opportunities, even when they are qualified for the job or have been crime free for an extended period of time.

Each year, more than 10 million adults are released from jail or prison. One in 31 adults is under correctional supervision on any given day in the U.S.; it is estimated that 70 million adults have a criminal record. Across the political spectrum, people agree that efforts to help these individuals stay out of prison or jail and to succeed in the community must include a strategy focused on assisting them to get and maintain a job. As part of the CSG State Pathways to Prosperity initiative, the CSG Justice Center has been working with local and state governments, as well as leaders in the business community, to test and evaluate approaches that work to reduce recidivism and improve employment outcomes. This session reviewed what has been learned to date and highlight the perspectives of state leaders who are tackling this challenge.

On Nov. 24, with two weeks left in his second and final term, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order that automatically restored the right to vote and hold public office to approximately 140,000 nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences.

Even as partisan tension increases in advance of the 2016 elections, national policymakers on both sides of the aisle can cite one area where many find broad agreement: The need for comprehensive criminal justice reform. In Washington, D.C., growing momentum behind efforts to reform the criminal justice system has pushed the issue to the forefront of lawmakers’ agendas for the fall. For example, pressure has intensified to reauthorize federal funding for programs that support successful reentry of formerly incarcerated individuals. This momentum for change to the federal system reflects lessons learned from states where system innovations and improvements have made an impact on recidivism and other criminal justice outcomes over the past decade.

Tens of millions of Americans have criminal records, and for even the most qualified among them, finding a job can be incredibly difficult. When these people remain unemployed, it’s bad for them, certainly, but also bad for their communities. Thus, a number of states and localities have adopted so-called “Fair Hiring” practices, which seek to ensure job applicants with criminal records can show a potential employer their qualifications before being required to reveal their criminal histories.

The CSG Justice Center released a new policy brief that outlines opportunities for states and localities to improve public health and safety outcomes and reduce spending on corrections and health care services by maximizing the appropriate use of Medicaid coverage for people involved with the criminal justice system. People in prisons and jails often have complex and costly health care needs, and states and local governments currently pay almost the entirety of these individuals’ health care costs. In addition, as many as 70 to 90 percent of the some 10 million people released from prison or jail each year are uninsured. The majority of these individuals have little or no access to health care services and experience gaps in continuity of care, which are associated with poor health outcomes and increased recidivism, particularly among those with mental illnesses and substance use disorders.