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BBB Reduces Barriers, Improves Opportunity for People in the Criminal Justice System

The House-passed Build Back Better (BBB) legislation would not only make transformational investments in children, families, workers, climate, and health coverage, but also uplift a population that’s often left behind — those affected by the criminal legal system — by taking significant steps toward addressing the systemic and institutional barriers to success that they face. Build Back Better would broaden opportunity by improving access to services for people with a criminal record, expanding or creating services targeted to them, and investing in other services that will help them find success.

The United States is the global leader in incarceration, with a staggering 2.3 million people in jail or prison on any given day and another 4.4 million people on parole or probation. More than 98 percent of incarcerated individuals eventually return to their families and communities, but they often get little help with re-entry and face numerous barriers to employment, housing, and health coverage. These factors contribute to more than 4 in 10 individuals being rearrested during their first year after release.

Communities of color have suffered the brunt of this mass incarceration due to a long history of discriminatory policing and sentencing policies as well as historical and ongoing discrimination in employment, education, and other areas As a result of these factors, Black adults are 5.9 times likelier to be incarcerated than white adults, while Hispanic adults are 3.1 times likelier. Indicative of the continuing racial basis within the justice system and society at large, a recent study found that Black men are reincarcerated more often and more quickly than all other groups, despite having lower risk scores on nearly every variable in a standardized risk-assessment tool.

Build Back Better would bring sorely needed supports to the justice-involved community. It would expand or create a number of services targeted to people with current or prior involvement in the criminal legal system, such as:

  • Supporting efforts to improve continuity of care for people preparing to leave jail or prison. BBB would provide Medicaid coverage for health care services that people receive in the 30 days prior to their release. Allowing Medicaid to cover these services provides an opportunity to connect people with the health care services they will need to manage chronic illness, mental health, or substance use disorders after returning home. People who are incarcerated have higher rates of physical and mental health conditions but often go without needed care while incarcerated and leave jail or prison without medications, a care plan, or appointments lined up.
  • Improving access to quality jobs and opportunities for training. BBB would make significant investments to provide individuals returning from jail or prison with access to quality jobs. It includes $1.5 billion for the Department of Labor’s Reentry Employment Opportunities (REO) program, which provides grants that states and localities can use for subsidized employment, a proven method to help formerly incarcerated individuals find good jobs. The REO funding includes $1 billion for employment opportunities related to climate change and $125 million for connecting youths re-entering society with employment. BBB would also provide funding through the Health Profession Opportunity Grants program for demonstration projects to connect people with criminal records to career pathways in the health professions and provide the supportive services necessary to help them succeed.

In addition, Build Back Better would invest in services that broadly support households with low incomes but would be especially helpful to formerly incarcerated individuals, such as:

  • Improving access to behavioral health crisis services, which can prevent arrest and incarceration. The American Rescue Plan created a temporary option for states to use Medicaid funds, with three years of an enhanced federal matching rate, to provide mobile crisis intervention services; BBB would make this option permanent. Mobile crisis teams help de-escalate behavioral health crises and connect people to community-based services, avoiding costly emergency department visits and hospitalizations. Mobile crisis services may also prevent the arrest and incarceration of people with mental health and substance use disorders, who are disproportionately represented in the nation’s jails and prisons and among fatal police shootings. By giving states a permanent option to receive Medicaid funding for these services, BBB would encourage more states to deploy a health care response to mental health and substance use emergencies.
  • Helping disrupt the cycle between homelessness and incarceration by funding about 300,000 new housing vouchers. BBB would target about 80,000 of the new vouchers to households experiencing or at risk of homelessness and survivors of domestic and other forms of violence, including many currently or formerly incarcerated people. It also would give the Department of Housing and Urban Development the authority to create alternative screening and eligibility requirements that could make it easier for people with conviction records to receive the targeted vouchers. These targeted vouchers could help address the high rates of homelessness among formerly incarcerated people, although much more is still needed.

Build Back Better doesn’t include other targeted changes needed to help people who are justice-involved, such as investing in alternatives to youth incarceration or repealing the ban on SNAP benefits for those with felony convictions. But it does address some long-standing problems within the criminal justice system and provide overdue relief to millions of Americans who struggle to contend with the barriers and discrimination associated with justice involvement.