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During Second Chance Month, we bring renewed vigor and attention to the nationwide discussion about how to achieve a more compassionate society—one that clears a path for redemption and an opportunity for those returning from incarceration to move beyond their worst mistake and to contribute to their communities in productive and impactful ways.
Hundreds of thousands of people come home from state and federal prisons every year, and millions more from local jails. In fact, nearly half of American adults report that an immediate family member has spent time in prison or jail, while an estimated 1 in 12 children has experienced the incarceration of a parent. The effects of incarceration are not felt equally by all families: Black Americans are 50 percent more likely than their white counterparts to have had a family member in prison or jail, and the concentration of incarceration can impact entire neighborhoods.
Those who spend time in prison or jail pay a high price—even beyond their sentence. When people return home, they often find it hard to get a job, access education and housing, or even engage in fundamental civic activities like voting, serving on a jury or volunteering at their kid’s school. Indeed, many of the pro-social activities that research shows can lead to desistance from criminal behavior are blocked or impeded by blanket collateral consequences that pile on the punishment but do little to advance public safety.
No one understands the challenges of reentry better than people who have experienced it firsthand, and no one is better position to help shape the policies and programs that can address those challenges and promote reentry success. At the Office of Justice Programs, we recognize the critical role that justice-involved leaders can play in helping us find solutions, and we are thrilled that OJP’s Bureau of Justice Assistance recently welcomed two visiting fellows who bring their professional expertise and lived experience from direct involvement with the criminal justice system to inform our efforts.
These two policy professionals—John Bae from the Vera Institute of Justice and Angel Sanchez from the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition—join OJP as Second Chance Fellows, part of the BJA Visiting Fellows Program. Their invaluable perspectives will help inform the critical work we are engaged in at BJA and across OJP.
John is a program manager with the Opening Doors to Public Housing Initiative at the Vera Institute of Justice. He has done extensive work in the area of higher education for justice-involved individuals and helped spur justice reform efforts from his prior perch in philanthropy. He holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. During his fellowship, John will focus on creating comprehensive blueprints to strengthen the reentry continuum in two states, and on elevating the voices of formerly incarcerated people in national discussions on reentry practice and policy.
Angel is a social justice advocate who has fought for greater access to education and voting rights for justice-involved individuals. When he was 16, he was sentenced to prison and served 12 years. Angel obtained his GED behind bars, and went on to attend Valencia Community College as a homeless student. He later graduated with honors from the University of Central Florida and earned his J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law. Angel’s fellowship will focus on restoring and enhancing access to education for people with prior criminal justice involvement. Prior to his fellowship, Angel was the Senior Policy Analyst at the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, where he also headed FRRC’s Fines & Fees pro bono program and led the organization’s efforts that informed and shaped Covid-19 interventions for individuals who were incarcerated, on supervision or being released.
I had the opportunity to work closely with the Department’s first Second Chance fellow, Daryl Atkinson, in 2015. Daryl’s brilliance and influence on policy and practice resulted in meaningful changes here in the federal government and across the country. And now I am thrilled to welcome John and Angel to OJP as our newest Second Chance Fellows. I am eager to see where their work will lead and am excited for the extraordinary contributions they are certain to make—to help us, as a nation, deliver on the promise of a second chance and pave the way for more safe, just and equitable communities.