The U.S. Justice Department yesterday announced a sweeping set of changes to the federal prison system, creating what it termed a “school district” for inmates, agreeing to pay for every inmate to get a birth certificate and state ID card, and issuing new standards for privately-run halfway houses, the Washington Post reports. Attorney General Loretta Lynch lauded the changes as “critical” ways to help those leaving prison adjust to life in the outside world. They might be short-lived under the Trump administration.
President-elect Donald Trump and his pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Al.), have indicated disagreement with some of the Justice Department’s efforts to reduce recidivism. Sessions, in a congressional hearing last year, supported efforts to keep offenders from repeating crimes, but he questioned the necessity of some programs. He said, “My observation over the years of attempts to have education and other kind of character-building programs in prison before they’re released doesn’t seem to have much benefit.” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates believes the incoming administration would maintain the new changes. She said research had shown inmates participating in correctional education programs had 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than those who did not, and that would mean cost savings. DOJ plans to build a “semi-autonomous school district within the federal prison system” to offer programs for literacy, high school diplomas, and postsecondary education. Yates said the overall effort would cost between $1 million and $1.5 million initially, but it would save $19 million a year. That is because inmates would be able to find jobs and housing more quickly, which would allow speedier transfer to home confinement.