Every April, we celebrate Second Chance Month, an opportunity to remember those in our community who are reentering society after involvement in the criminal justice system and consider the unique obstacles they face. America is the land of opportunity and second chances. Previously incarcerated individuals who take accountability for their actions and improve their lives should be able to count on our support.

Approximately 600,000 people are released from state and federal prisons each year. Upon release, many of these folks do not have basic resources like a savings account, a driver’s license, a primary care provider, or a job. The latest large scale and long-term recidivism study conducted by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported that “66 percent of prisoners were arrested within three years and, 82 percent were arrested within ten years.”

Another BJS study tracked employment for over 51,000 individuals released from federal prisons in 2010. One-third of those individuals were not employed at all during that four-year period.

I firmly believe that one of the most impactful things we can do to help these individuals break the cycle of crime and violence is to help connect them to a good job. I have seen firsthand how a chance at employment can help turn a life around. Prior to serving in Congress, I owned and operated a construction firm, which participated in work release programs and was successful in helping those individuals find full-time employment.

Holding down a job is a key aspect of reconnecting justice-involved individuals with their larger communities. It gives individuals a sense of purpose, reaffirms their self-worth, and brings stability to their families. We have a strong federal tool, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), that we can use to improve federal efforts to assist these individuals in finding a job.

WIOA provides the framework for the nation’s workforce development programs and focuses on helping eligible workers connect with the training they need to reskill and upskill to meet the needs of our economy. WIOA is overdue for reauthorization, and the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed legislation that would inject new funds into the program and implement measures to ensure training leads to family-sustaining jobs for workers.

This reauthorization package included my bill, the Workforce Reentry Act, legislation which would prompt innovation and improvement in the reentry of justice-involved individuals into the workforce through competitive grants, rigorous evaluation, and the dissemination of best practices. Since 2005, the Department of Labor has been operating the loosely structured Reentry Employment Opportunities program, awarding funding to organizations providing mentoring, job training, and case management services. However, independent evaluations have found this haphazard approach has produced minimal impacts on recidivism and labor market outcomes.

My bill would codify the Reentry Employment Opportunities program and implement several reforms to ensure that we are pursuing evidence-based approaches that will connect eligible individuals with employers in their communities in in-demand industries. Moreover, grantees will be held to rigorous performance outcomes on participants’ employment, earnings, and credential attainment. This will give participants the assurance that the WIOA training they receive, prior to and after their release from prison, will lead them to stable employment that can sustain them in the days, weeks, months, and years after their reentry.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ WIOA reauthorization package, A Stronger Workforce for America Act, is transformational legislation that is strengthened by the provision to codify and renew the Reentry Employment Opportunities program. I call on the U.S. Senate to take up this legislation without delay so that thousands of reentering citizens can have access to lifechanging workforce development programs.

While the observation of Second Chance Month will soon come to a close, let’s commit ourselves all year to make good on our promise to Americans with experience in the justice system and offer them the best tool we can for success: a stable job. These opportunities will lead to sustainable career paths and give these individuals and their families a true second chance.

Rep. Lloyd Smucker represents Pennsylvania’s 11th District, which includes Lancaster and southern York counties, and serves on the House Budget Committee, the House Committee on Ways and Means, the House Committee on Education and Workforce, and the Joint Economic Committee.

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