May 4, 2009 RSS feed

Libraries and Reentry: An Interview with Congressman Keith Ellison
Why are you interested in reentry issues?

As a former criminal defense attorney, I am very interested in reentry issues. During that time, I saw first-hand the value of reentry programs and the contributions that ex-offenders can make to their communities. I believe reentry programs help to ensure that the transition from prison back to society is safe and successful. Good reentry programs make certain equal opportunity to employment and education services are offered. Good programs, in turn, build stronger, healthier communities. I continue to be a strong advocate for reentry programs that give people a chance to return to their communities and make positive contributions.

How do you think libraries can help ex-offenders?

Libraries play a vital role in the reentry process, by providing ex-offenders with a window on the world of information to begin the process of reentry into their communities. Traditionally, libraries have served as a natural transition point for ex-offenders, often having had access to library materials while serving their time. Moreover, libraries are public venues that can aid in the development of social skills needed to once again reintegrate into society. Libraries provide free access to a wealth of resources including books, films, community programs, computer and Internet access. Additionally, some libraries offer training and literacy programs, job opportunity searches, schooling and rehabilitation information and legal services. In doing so, libraries are often the vital link to equipping ex-offenders with the tools necessary to make a successful reintegration into society.

Are you currently involved in any legislation or programs to help ex-offenders?

In the last Congress, I co-sponsored, The Second Chance Act of 2007 (HR 1593), which passed the House and Senate and was signed into law (P.L. 110-199) on April 9, 2008. Specifically, the legislation requires that recipients who are eligible for this program’s federal funding must develop comprehensive strategic reentry plans containing measurable annual and five-year performance outcomes. It further requires establishing a reentry task force to promote lower recidivism. It also calls for strategic reentry plans for ex-offenders. The legislation’s intent is to ensure a safe and sustainable transition of ex-offenders from prison or jail back to our communities. I was also a co-sponsor of the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education Act (Youth PROMISE Act). This bill calls for more opportunities for youth gang members to reenter their communities by demonstrating a commitment to change from their past actions. Not only does this bill serve the community, it also helps to demonstrate that young people can learn from their mistakes and not be burdened by them in the future. I am currently considering championing the House version of a bill authored by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA). This legislation calls for a complete overhaul of our current prison system including the establishment of a National Criminal Justice Commission. Our country has a clear problem. With just 5% of the world’s population, America holds nearly 25% of the world’s reported prison population. Our prison population has quadrupled since 1984, and most of the increase comes from people being imprisoned for drug offenses – mostly minor and nonviolent. You can be sure that I will continue to remain watchful of any opportunities that have as their result productive reentry programs. 

Keith Ellison has represented the Fifth Congressional District of Minnesota in the U.S. House of Representatives since taking office on January 4, 2007. The Fifth District includes the City of Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs.

For more information or to contact Congressman Ellison:

612.522.1212 (Minneapolis)
202.225.4755 (Washington, D.C.)
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