US Attorney's Office On Earning Freedom And Reentry

07/14/2016 03:25 pm ET Updated Jul 15, 2017
Empty prison cell
Empty prison cell

President Obama let the world know that "Our Criminal Justice System Isn't as Smart as it Should Be." Alicia Limtiaco, US Attorney for the Districts of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, took action by bringing different sectors of her community together. She and her team are determined to use innovative initiatives that will improve outcomes of the criminal justice system. Ms. Limtiaco's efforts show that we can build safer communities when every citizen contributes.

In June of 2015, Ms. Limtiaco organized "One Community Guam" and "One Community CNMI" Conferences -- "Engaging Our Community in Crime Prevention, Strengthening Protections for Vulnerable Populations, and Reentry Efforts through Workforce Development Strategies." In June of 2016, Ms. Limtiaco and her team expanded the effort. They launched the 2nd Annual "One Community Guam" and "One Community CNMI Conferences" titled "Earning Freedom and Reentry."

The White House has highlighted why taxpayers should have an interest in the concept of "reentry." Our nation now incarcerates 2.2 million people, a number that has more than quadrupled from only 500,000 prisoners in 1980. America incarcerates 25 percent of the world's prisoners, even though the United States has only 5 percent of the world's population. Our system of mass incarceration costs taxpayers $80 billion annually. With a "smarter" criminal justice system, we could divert more resources to improve education programs, finance infrastructure, and offer other programs that contribute to safer communities.

President Obama and his Administration have brought more awareness to the concept of reentry. They've also launched policies and sponsored legislation to reduce America's federal prison population. The US Attorney followed with courageous leadership steps. Through her "One Community Guam" and "One Community CNMI" initiatives, Ms. Limtiaco brought stakeholders together from the community, the courtroom, the prison system, and justice-involved youth services for comprehensive training on the Earning Freedom reentry program.

I began developing the Earning Freedom reentry program while I served a 45-year term in federal prison. That long journey exposed me to many masterminds, including Socrates, Nelson Mandela, Viktor Frankl, Mahatma Gandhi, and other people who responded positively to imprisonment or struggle. Those leaders influenced my adjustment, inspiring me to focus on steps I could take to reconcile with society while I served multiple decades. As a result, I emerged from confinement with my dignity intact and numerous employment opportunities that eased my adjustment. The Earning Freedom reentry program shows how others may use the Mastermind Program to prepare for their own success as law-abiding, contributing citizens after struggle.

As the highest-ranking federal law-enforcement officer in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, the US Attorney led by example. By bringing me to Guam and Saipan for professional training on the Earning Freedom Mastermind Reentry Program, Ms. Limtiaco demonstrated her commitment to make use of every resource to build safer communities. Besides efforts from law enforcement, she asked community stakeholders, judicial leaders, and prison officials to collaborate. Even people who transformed their lives while serving sanctions in the criminal justice system should contribute to community safety.

Between June 26 and July 1, I worked with leadership from the US Attorney's Office to conduct 25 training sessions on Earning Freedom in both Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. We coordinated training sessions at the US Attorney's Office, the Departments of Corrections, the Federal District Courts, the local Judiciaries or Superior Courts, and the Divisions of Youth Services. Further, I met with inmates, parolees and justice-involved youth, and trained those selected as peer or mentor facilitators for the reentry course.

The Guam Chamber of Commerce allowed me to present to employers at their meeting.

The Guam and CNMI Departments of Labor and Saipan Chamber of Commerce were helpful and supportive in bringing employers into the discussion.

We coordinated training sessions for nonprofits, faith based organizations, social services and health professionals, educators, law enforcement, prosecutors, pretrial, probation and parole officers, defense counsel, military organizations, and others in the government and private sectors.

On July 1, I also worked with leadership from the Federal Judiciary and met with bar members and those on pretrial and supervised release in Guam. Our train-the-trainer sessions ensure that the Earning Freedom Reentry programs will continue in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands even now that I've returned to California.

The US Attorney's One Community Guam" and "One Community CNMI" Conferences show that if we can build safer communities when we tap into every resource, even using the formerly incarcerated.