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Agency of U.S. Department of Justice Curbs Its Use of "Felon" and "Offender"

by Derek Gilna

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), a U.S. Department of Justice Agency, has instituted a policy discouraging the use of the terms "felon" and "offender" in its communications referring to released prisoners. This policy apparently applies only to this agency and not the entire Department of Justice (DOJ).

OJP agency head and Assistant Attorney General Karen Mason stated: "During National Reentry Week last week, federal prisons and prosecutors’ offices and local organizations held job fairs, community town hall meetings, special mentoring sessions, and outreach events aimed at raising public awareness of the obstacles facing those who leave our prisons, jails, and juvenile justice facilities each year." Mason noted that the American Bar Association also has identified "more than 46,000 collateral consequences of criminal convictions, penalties such as disenfranchisement and employment prohibitions that follow individuals long after their release."

The DOJ recently published the "Roadmap To Reentry: Reducing Recidivism Through Reentry Reform At the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)."  According to the report, "More than 600,000 individual citizens return to neighborhoods across America after serving time in federal and state prisons.  Another 11.4 million individuals cycle through local jails. And nearly one in three Americans of working age have had an encounter with the criminal justice system..." The BOP itself houses nearly 200,000 individuals and releases approximately 40,000 prisoners every year back into society.

Federal officials now claim, after almost thirty years of steadily increasing incarceration rates and rising prison populations, that the American justice system has done a poor job at preparing this flood of released prisoners back into society.  With federal and state finances still in precarious states, economic shortfalls have forced officials, whose previous default policy was to lock up more people, to divert more resources to education, drug treatment, and mental health services to releasing prisoners, to avoid bankrupting their governments.

Although the President and the DOJ herald this new development, it remains to be seen how many resources will be diverted from incarceration to reentry services in the future, to help undo the damage of the past thirty years.

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