Christine Cole, Executive Director

Making mistakes is part of life, and for most of us, so are second chances. We screw up, we learn, we make amends, and we’re able to move on without having our lives derailed.

But far too many people don’t have that luxury.

For some, even relatively small missteps that might be brushed off as youthful indiscretions or momentary lapses in judgment for others lead to severe consequences. Too often, especially for those who are poor or people of color – or both – this disparity can lead to involvement in the justice system and potentially a lifetime of limited access to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. It also perpetuates destructive multi-generational cycles of poverty and incarceration.

April is Second Chance Month, which highlights the barriers individuals with a criminal record face and seeks to strengthen efforts to break down those barriers. Prison Fellowship, a nonprofit organization supporting individuals who are currently or formerly incarcerated and their families, launched Second Chance Month in 2017, and it has since been endorsed by the Trump and Biden administrations, as well as many state and local jurisdictions throughout the country.

No one should be judged for an entire lifetime on their last worst act. Individuals who’ve paid for their mistakes should be able to move on with their lives without facing unending roadblocks that hamstring their futures – especially when those roadblocks increase the chances that they’ll end up back in the justice system all over again.

Research shows that second chances in the form of reentry services that help with the transition back home after incarceration, as well as increased access to jobs, housing, and education, reduce recidivism and the financial costs associated with re-incarcerating people. They also reduce the enormous and devastating social costs to their families and communities.

Through advocacy, legislation, and support, there has been enormous progress in expanding access to second chances. But there’s still much that needs to be done.

So where do we start?

Some of areas most in need of reform include eliminating barriers to housing for individuals with a criminal record, as well as the widespread use fines and fees that effectively criminalize poverty. Also, across the country there is a severe lack of community-based behavioral health services, which places significant burdens on the justice system to fill these gaps.

Additionally, federal, state, and local leaders need to improve availability and access to behavioral health services while also increasing access to employment and educational options for returning individuals. And overly punitive sentencing structures continue to use incarceration at alarming rates with periods in prison far exceeding any retributive or rehabilitative goals. 

If state and federal goals include reducing recidivism, then supporting individuals at reentry is key. Policies and resources should be aligned to achieve these goals.
  • CJI recently received a grant through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety to continue a 16-year partnership with the city of Fall River working to reduce youth violence.

  • The number of people released from Nevada’s prisons shrank during the COVID-19 pandemic, and interruptions to programming, visitation, recreation, and release planning negatively impacted prison conditions, according to a new CJI report.

  • CJI recently hosted and facilitated a series of webinars for the Institutional Corrections Research Network (ICRN)/National Corrections Reporting Program (NCRP) group. For the third year in a row, the meeting was held in a virtual format, with attendees joining remotely from locations across the country.

  • Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) sought to reduce the number of individuals on community supervision by allowing more people to access a form of less intensive supervision and to earn an earlier discharge from parole. A new CJI analysis based on a year’s worth of data suggests the experiment was a success: people who completed their supervision early and those on so-called low risk/low custody caseloads had a lower recidivism rate than individuals on traditional parole and those who reached their mandatory discharge date. 

  • Throughout the U.S., governors, courts, corrections systems, and law enforcement agencies continue to implement new policies to limit the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons. CJI continues to track responses.
SPOTLIGHT: Second Chance Month events and resources
In recognition of Second Chance Month, state agencies, local organizations, and nonprofits around the country are hosting events throughout April to expand access to resources designed to increase opportunities and break down barriers for individuals who’ve been impacted by the justice system.

Among them are state leaders and stakeholders in Tennessee and Louisiana who have also partnered with the Crime and Justice Institute to implement justice system improvements adopted as part of the states’ participation in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.

The Tennessee Office of Reentry kicked off its Second Chance Month events with a celebration and resource fair in Nashville on April 1. The event featured speakers and representatives from organizations that provide support services to individuals transitioning from incarceration to the community.

Keynote Speaker Robert Sherrill, the only person in history to receive a pardon from a governor and a president of the United States, spoke of the challenges he faced returning home and the untapped potential of returning individuals.

“We have a whole pool of people… willing and ready to get out and reenter society successfully. We just need an opportunity,” Sherrill said. “I don’t need to be the exception. I need to be the standard of what reentry looks like.”

Additional events were also scheduled in Memphis and Knoxville.
In Louisiana, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections partnered with community providers to host a series of in-person and virtual events, including the “Return for Good” webinar series, which highlights challenges individuals reentering the community.

The series explores topics including grant programs, barriers facing returning individuals who want to obtain occupational licenses and how to overcome them, resume writing, and interview skills.

For information on additional Second Chance Month events around the country, the National Reentry Resource Center has created an interactive map with details.
Thanks to our many partners and funders who help us make this work happen, including Arnold Ventures, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), National Institute of Corrections, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Pew Charitable Trusts, and several state, regional, and local jurisdictions.