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Bureau of Justice Assistance director Denise O'Donnell highlights recidivism and reentry initiatives at Annual Luncheon.

The ballroom was packed at the Annual Luncheon on Tuesday, as attendees vied to hear Denise O'Donnell, director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) deliver the keynote address. O'Donnell expressed her respect and gratitude to the American Correctional Association for being a leader in the corrections field. "I know that any goals we have at BJA--whether they be directed toward corrections, reentry or justice system reform--are only achievable because of a strong partnership with [ACA]," she said.

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O'Donnell said that while the shared mission of care, custody and control will always remain constant, expectations for the field are changing. It is now more important than ever that the effort to reduce recidivism be addressed behind facility walls. "Our mission at BJA is to support you in any way we can," O'Donnell said, highlighting the specific efforts that BJA has made during the last few years to improve recidivism and reentry across the country. She cited the implementation of evidence-based programs as one of the strongest ways to create services that are "targeted to the right people, in the right time and in the right dosage."

Since the implementation of the Second Chance Act five years ago, BJA has awarded more than $250 million in grants to nearly 500 recipients. The recidivism reduction grants go toward initiatives such as treating substance abuse and co-occurring disorders, and providing career technology programs for inmates. In addition, the Second Chance Act National Reentry Resource Center, supported by the Council of State Governments, serves as a "one stop shop" for technical assistance, webi-nars and reentry research.

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"We are living in a time of remarkable change," O'Donnell said, citing the importance of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative to "take a closer look at the data on who comes into our facilities and how long they stay." She highlighted the Urban Institute's *165.8 million that has already been reinvested in states that have participated in the initiative. "I look at all these changes--focus on reentry, pretrial reform, adoption of evidence-based programs and strategies for justice reinvestment--as extraordinary opportunities for the corrections field," she said.

Another opportunity to impact the lives of offenders has arisen as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. O'Donnell reminded attendees that for the first time, inmates who were previously not eligible for medical coverage will now have access to health care. Emphasizing that health care is a critical aspect of an inmate's reentry, O'Donnell urged corrections professionals to make insurance enrollment a part of their facility's discharge planning, and to explore options in their states to suspend benefits instead of terminate them when inmates enter the facility. "I applaud ACA for being on top of this important issue," O'Donnell said, referring to the plenary session that was held on Saturday, as well as the many health care workshops throughout the conference.

Lastly, O'Donnell discussed the impact of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). BJA has a number of initiatives in place to help corrections professionals implement the PREA standards in the field. In addition to offering PREA grants, BJA also runs the PREA Resource Center. "I'm heartened by the fact that most correctional administrators have implemented a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse within their facilities," O'Donnell said. "I appreciate the expertise that ACA has contributed to the PREA standards and the audit tools."

In closing, O'Donnell urged attendees to see BJA as a partner to assist the corrections field in any challenge they may face. "Thank you all for the hard work that you do. You are truly among the most dedicated public servants that I know," she said. "Thank you for the important mission that you are accomplishing. Together, we are making a difference in the safety of our communities. Remember, you have a partner with BJA."
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Title Annotation:Annual Luncheon; American Correctional Association 2014 Winter Conference
Author:Scafuri, Jenna
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Conference notes
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:May 1, 2014
Words:634
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