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May 30, 2008

CONTACT: Peter Van Delft
(617) 961-6682


Recently, Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral traveled to Washington D.C. to participate as a panelist in a forum addressing the impact of reentry from local jails.

Co–sponsored by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Urban Institute, and held at the Library of Congress, the event also featured several members of the United States Congress, along with experts in the field of county corrections from around the country.

Joining Sheriff Cabral in the panel were Congressman Danny Davis (D–IL); Director of the White House Office of Community & Faith–based Initiatives Jay Hein; President of the Urban Institute Robert Rischauer; President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice Jeremy Travis; Director of Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation Arthur Wallenstein; and Reverend Roosevelt Lightsy of the Justice Reinvestment Project.

During her panel presentation, Sheriff Cabral gave a brief overview about some of the functions of the Sheriff’s Department as well as the many rehabilitative programs that have been implemented under her leadership to help stem the rising tide of recidivism.

To this end, Sheriff Cabral praised some of the preventative efforts being made around the country, but said that more was desperately needed.

“Having these programs is no longer optional,” said Sheriff Cabral. “We have to do this kind of work. We incarcerate too many people and release too many people into the community to ignore this.”

Fielding a question about some of the existing challenges for ex–offenders, including the pursuit of gainful employment while saddled with a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI), Sheriff Cabral stated that, while difficulties do exist, there are some opportunities if one knows where to look for them.

“One of the things that we can do is to find employers who are willing to hire people with criminal records,” Sheriff Cabral said. “There are a lot of them out there, though they’re not always vocal. There are national companies who do it as a matter of course, they just don’t advertise. But, they’re out there and they’re willing to work with people.”

Also acknowledging the roadblocks that exist for ex–offenders trying to remain out of prison, Congressman Davis touted the significance of the Second Chance Act while cautioning against reliance on legislation alone.

“We can’t just simply pass legislation,” said Congressman Davis. “It’s not going to solve the problem. You have to recognize that you’re starting in the basement and you’ve got a whole lot of stories to go before you get to the top of the rung on this.”

“But,” he continued, “with the Second Chance Act, we have a tremendous opportunity to start the conversation because ultimately, as a society we have to recognize what reentry really is and that there are so many barriers to success that we could spend the rest of the day naming them.”

The Second Chance Act, which was recently signed into law, is designed to help prisoners “effectively reintegrate into the community by enhancing drug treatment, mentoring, and transitional services for ex–offenders through partnerships with local corrections agencies and faith–based and community organizations.”

Another topic discussed at the forum was the current work being done by members of the panel to amend HR 5802 – the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act – to repeal the denial of food stamp eligibility of ex–offenders and, thus, remove one more stumbling block on the road to successful reentry.

Though not on the panel, Congressman Bobby Scott (D–VA) commended the event’s speakers, sponsors, and audience for their participation in the movement to find more effective and efficient ways of reducing crime and recidivism.

“We have to reverse this culture of using incarceration as our main strategy for reducing crime,” said Congressman Scott. “The popular idea has been to lock them up and throw away the key. But, we’ve run our incarceration rate up so high that we have more people locked up here in this country than anywhere else on Earth, by far. It’s time to start looking into alternative solutions.”

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