Represented by just two elected officials per state, what comes with being a United States Senator is the ability through voting to take action on bills, amendments, motions, treaties, and nominations.
Three years ago, both Virginia’s Senators, Mark Warner, and Tim Kaine voted to pass the First Step Act, a piece of federal legislation that reauthorized grant funding for state and local reentry programs to reduce recidivism.
A true bipartisan effort, President Donald Trump signed the criminal justice bill into law in December 2018. In addition to strengthening public safety, the ACT also reformed federal prisons and sentencing laws.
Warner said at the time, “While this measure is not a cure-all for the problems that plague our criminal justice system, this is an overdue step to improve a system that still imprisons too many people – particularly people of color – for committing nonviolent crimes. Instead, this bill will allow law enforcement to redirect taxpayer resources toward catching and punishing dangerous and violent criminals.”
Thanks in large part to Warner and Kaine, approximately $3 million in funding was recently allocated to
Total Action Against Poverty for reentry training and employment programs. Granted through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA’s) Pathway Homes program, the primary purpose of the initiative is to significantly improve employability results for adults throughout the reentry process from incarceration.
“By expanding employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated Virginians, we can help them successfully transition back into the community, reduce recidivism and strengthen our neighborhoods,” said Kaine. “This federal funding will help individuals find employment and stay on the right track.”
This year, Alex Hunter will turn 51. When he was 19, he went to jail, an experience that changed the trajectory of his life. Explaining why he supports this program, Hunter said, “Oftentimes the difference between those who end up in the system versus those who don’t come down to a strong family structure. Because I didn’t have that, I made a lot of stupid decisions early in life. Not everyone in jail is an irredeemable person. This program will help a lot of people avoid the mistakes I made once upon a time.”
Both Warner and Kaine have long histories of advocating for what is in the best interest of all Virginians, especially the Roanoke community. During President Obama’s second term, criminal justice was one of the few issues that had broad support in Congress. It was Warner and Kaine who successfully urged Obama in 2015 to “ban the box” on federal job applications to help expand job opportunities among ex-offenders.
Per data from the National Institute of Justice, nearly 43 percent of criminals released return before the first year out of prison. If all goes according to plan, both Senators say this investment in Roanoke will have an impact that will last for generations.