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Public Statements

Remarks for Secretary Hilda L. Solis U.S. Department of Labor Reintegration Summit

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Thank you and good morning. Welcome to the Department of Labor. I want to start off by thanking Gabby and our Office of Public Engagement for organizing today's summit. When they sent out the invitations, we we're planning for about 300 participants. Within one week, we had 300 RSVPs. And today, we've more than doubled that number.

The turnout is a testament to the importance of your work in local communities. It's a jobs issue, a public safey issue, an economic issue and a moral issue. We'll talk about all of these dimensions today. Thank you for being here.

I also want to recognize Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Congresswoman Donna Edwards and Congressman Bobby Scott for being here and caring so passionately about this issue. They are all great friends and we have a long history of working together to address the special needs of these populations. Thank you all for leading on these issues.

I also want to thank all of our Foundation and government partners here for the resources you've given to the re-entry community. And it is truly a diverse community. Today, we have leaders from faith-based groups, community and nonprofit organizations, business leaders, workforce professionals and local elected officials.

I know this is more than a job for you. It's a calling -- giving hope to those who are trying to make amends and turn their lives around.

Mother Teresa once said, "I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much." You've probably all had moments where you've felt like that. Your work won't make you rich or earn you front-page headlines, but you are changing lives, and you can't put a price on that.
I know how challenging this work can be. I'm proud to sit on the President's Re-Entry Council with Attorney General Holder. Today's summit is a continuation of the meeting we had here in June of last year with the Attorney General. At that meeting, we talked about the economic costs of this challenge. In the last 20 years, prison spending has grown faster than almost any other state budget item. We currently spend $68 billion on corrections at the local, state and federal level.

One in 99 American adults is currently incarcerated. This marks the highest rate of imprisonment in our nation's history. For communities of color, the rates are even higher. One in every 15 African-American adults is incarcerated, and one in every 36 Latino male adults is incarcerated. If people cannot secure jobs when they are released from incarceration, it increases the chances they will return to prison.

I call this work turning "tax takers" into taxpayers. It's about giving transitioning citizens the opportunity to contribute to our economy -- rather than drain dollars from state and local budgets. At the Department of Labor, we're proud of the contributions our Rexo program has made to turn lives around. It is estimated that 44 percent of all incarcerated adults will reoffend when they get out of prison. But for participants in our Rexo program, that number is down to 14 percent. So our impact is real, and it's measurable.
We've recently expanded our REXO grants to serve the special needs of young people and women. More than 144,000 youth are placed in juvenile correctional facilities each year. Many struggle with low educational levels, histories of domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health challenges. And they're usually returning to communities with high rates of crime and poor-performing schools.

Some are young men who grew up without a father and found themselves lured into a gang to feel a sense of belonging. But once they leave juvenile detention, there's a window of opportunity when they're looking for a lifestyle that doesn't involve dealing or stealing. It's so important we give them that alternative -- a chance to go back to school and get on a career pathway. If we don't, most will go right back through the revolving door of our prison system and new victims will be created. If that happens, we all lose.

Transitioning women also have unique needs. Over the last decade, there was a 22 percent increase in incarcerated women. Women are more likely to serve time for drug and property crimes, as opposed to violent crimes.They have different risk factors, such as greater incidences of sexual abuse and domestic violence. They often face the additional challenge of reuniting with their children and providing for their families. We recently awarded $12 million to organizations that provide employment services to these women. We're eager to hear about your experiences serving the needs of our youth and women populations.

We want to put our limited federal dollars where they will do the most good. There's a growing body of scientific research that can help us tailor our efforts, so we reach those who will benefit the most. We've been working closely with our partners at the Department of Justice, the Annie Casey Foundation and the Council of State Governments. We're researching the best strategies to get the best outcomes possible. Today's discussions will help inform this planning. And we hope that all of you who have to make funding decisions will benefit from our research.

Today, we have some of this field's best thinkers -- and doers -- under one roof today. We're not here today to lecture. We're here to learn from you.
My department is releasing a report today to help guide our discussion. It identifies some of the core challenges identified by our re-entry grantees. For instance, we found that many transitioning citizens are still confronted with employer bias and discriminatory hiring policies. As a result, too many cannot find work outside of low-skill, low-paying jobs. So my department is taking action to address these problems.

This May, we released formal guidance to the workforce system at every level. The EEOC has stated that blanket hiring exclusions based on criminal history can violate civil rights laws. We've instructed workforce professionals to instruct employers to correct postings that contain these exclusions and remove postings that do not comply. The Department of Labor funds more nearly 3,000 career centers through the American Job Center. You may have worked with the center in your community. You know they all host job boards and job fairs. It's important that job postings comply with the law. We think our new guidance will have a positive impact.

We all know employers who've given people that second chance -- and are glad that they did. Today, we're going to hear from two employers with powerful stories. Their names are Lamont Casey and Mike Pearson Lamont is President and CEO of LaCarey Entertainment. You may have seen him performing on HBO's Def Poetry Jam or BET's Lyric Café. His entertainment company has helped cast over 200 actors in hit shows, like the "The Wire" on HBO. Now, Lamont is working on a documentary that highlights the successful transition of four ex-offenders. Lamont knows this terrain because he has provided job opportunities to young people who took a wrong turn. In our first panel, he'll tell you about the lives he has changed.

Mike Pearson is the founder and President of Union Packaging. Mike is a Persian Gulf veteran and an business leader who serves on the boards of two Chambers of Commerce in the Philadelphia area. Mike has also advised the SBA on small business development. His company is a great success story -- by opening their doors to dedicated workers looking to make things right.

Lamont and Mike: We'd like to present you with special recognition from the Department of Labor today for leading by example. Thank you both for believing in the power of redemption. That's what today is all about. It's about helping people realize their potential -- people who don't want to turn back to a life of crime but need our support to get back on track.

I'm looking forward to a busy and productive day. We want to know what you are seeing on the ground. We want to know what works and what doesn't. And I promise that I will share our conclusions with the Re-Entry Council and the White House. Thank you for being problem-solvers. You're making our streets safer and our justice system more humane. Please keep up the great work.


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