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Justice Department Announces New Package Of Federal Prison Reforms


The Justice Department is launching a school district inside the federal prison system. Federal authorities say they will pay for inmates to get state ID cards before they're released. The new measures are part of a broader effort to ease prisoners' return to society. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: For the past few years, the Obama Justice Department has worked to overhaul the nation's federal prisons. They've sent fewer nonviolent drug criminals to lockup in the first place, and they're trying to do a better job of preparing inmates already behind bars for their eventual release. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates explains why.

SALLY YATES: The investments that we're making now will pay off in the long run both in terms of costing less but also in terms of safer communities. And that's really not a Democratic principle or a Republican principle. That's just good law enforcement.

JOHNSON: With just weeks to go before a new president takes office, justice leaders announced a few more big changes to the way prisons operate, changes like this one.

YATES: We're essentially creating a school district within the Bureau of Prisons.

JOHNSON: The Bureau of Prisons has hired a longtime Texas prison educator, Amy Lopez, to be superintendent of U.S. prison schools. Each inmate will get assessed when they enter the system, and officials will develop a plan for each prisoner. That could include everything from help with reading and learning disabilities to earning a high school diploma from inside prison walls.

YATES: We are going to save money through this. The research is really clear that individuals are 43 percent less likely to re-offend when they engage in meaningful education programs when they are in prison.

JOHNSON: Officials also agree to help inmates leaving prison to get state ID cards before they're released. Again, Sally Yates...

YATES: You know, if you don't have a valid ID, you can't get a job. You probably can't get housing. You can't get a driver's license. Really those basic things that we all take for granted are not available to someone coming out of prison without an ID.

JOHNSON: Estimates suggest the ID program will cost about a million and a half dollars, but Yates says it's still worth the money. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson is NPR's National Justice Correspondent.