4:21 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Please, please. Great occasion.
I want to welcome everyone to the White House. We’re here today to announce a vital new action that we’re taking to help former inmates find a job, live a crime-free life, and succeed beyond their wildest dreams. (Applause.)
And this afternoon, we’re very grateful to have many distinguished guests, including Secretary Alex Acosta. Alex, thank you very much. (Applause.) Governor Phil Bryant. Thank you, Phil, very much, very much. (Applause.) Governor Bill Lee. We just spent some time together. Tennessee. (Applause.)
And, I have to say, my administration is focused on lifting up all Americans. And that’s exactly what we’re doing with this.
As part of our working families agenda, we’ve expanded apprenticeships and job training, we’ve delivered historic tax cuts — the biggest ever in the history of our country — and regulatory reform, and we’ve increased access to affordable healthcare and childcare. So it’s been really important. (Applause.) Thank you.
And as a result of the booming economy, we’re bringing Americans who have been on the sidelines back into the workforce, including former inmates and those recovering from opioid addiction. Very important. And it’s been incredible, the success we’ve had.
Since the election, we’ve created 6 million new jobs. We’ve added more than a million new jobs in manufacturing, construction, and steel alone. And everyone said that was going to be an impossibility to do — manufacturing jobs.
African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American unemployment have reached the lowest levels and the lowest rates in history of our country. It’s been an incredible situation.
Our policies are rebuilding lives, rebuilding families, and rebuilding communities.
To realize America’s full potential, we must unlock the talents of every single citizen. We want to lift every American family out of poverty and into a future of hope and opportunity.
In December of last year, I signed into law groundbreaking and historic reform to our criminal justice system: the FIRST STEP Act. (Applause.) That’s terrific. Great. Great. That’s terrific. Thank you. Thank you very much. I think you like it. (Laughter.)
It is true though, since we’ve got it passed, nobody realized how tough it was. They’ve been trying to do it for many years. And — many, many years. And nobody thought they could do it. And we got it done. But we had tremendous conservative support and tremendous liberal support. It was very bipartisan. Some of the most conservative people — I know Mike Lee was in favor of it and Chuck Grassley was in favor of it. And then, on the other side, you had people that, frankly, I didn’t think would be signing too many of the things that I wanted to do. Phil Bryant, you know? (Laughter.)
But they all wanted it. And it’s something that I’m very proud of. And Jared and Ivanka were incredible. And they really pushed it. (Applause.) It’s true. And I think they were being pushed a little bit also by Kim Kardashian. She’s right here. (Applause.) So, thank you, Kim. And Kanye. Thank you.
Since its passage, more than a dozen states have advanced similar reforms at the state level. Now we must make sure that Americans returning from prison get a true second chance. Right?
America wins when citizens with a criminal record can contribute to their communities as law-abiding members of our society. When former inmates come home, the single-most important action we can take is to help them find a really, really good job, where they love the job, they want to go there, and they’re making a lot money. Right? And that’s what’s happening. And that’s because of a lot of reasons, including the people in this room. But it’s also because we have a great economy.
And some people that wouldn’t have normally made that choice, they’ve made that choice and they are so happy. I’m talking about employers. They are so happy they can’t even believe it. They’ve got — one man told me some of the best people that work for him now came out of prison. And these are people that a few years ago, they — he would not have given a chance. And now he considers them among his best people.
Too often, former inmates are not considered for jobs even if they’re qualified, rehabilitated, and ready to work. And that’s why we’re taking crucial steps to encourage business to expand second chance hiring practices. (Applause.)
So when we say “hire American,” we mean all Americans. And that’s what’s happening. (Applause.) First time, probably, ever. (Applause.)
And I think I can say, truly — and a lot of the folks in the room are experts and you’ve been doing this for a long time — but I think it’s probably the first time we can truly say that in the history of our country that that’s happening. So it’s really been fantastic.
The unemployment rate for former inmates is up to five times higher than the national average. My administration has set an ambitious goal: We want to cut the unemployment rate for these individuals to single digits within five years. And we think there’s a really good chance of doing it. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.
Second chance hiring is about safer communities, a stronger workforce, and a thriving economy. We believe in the dignity of work and the pride of a paycheck.
Here with us today is Johnny Koufos. And I worked on that name because it’s spelled a little bit differently. (Laughter.) It’s spelled a little bit differently than was supposed to, but I got it right, I think, Johnny. I don’t know. Close enough. (Laughter.) A lawyer who served time in prison for an alcohol-related accident and now runs a re-entry program. He’s done incredibly well. He’s highly respected in the community. He’s a tremendous guy.
And, John, maybe you could come up and say a few words, please. Okay? (Applause.)
MR. KOUFOS: Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you all for being here. And don’t worry about the name; it’s Greek. That’s the best pronunciation anyone has done in many years. (Laughter.)
Again, my name is John Koufos. And, Mr. President, you know, your courage in criminal justice reform has made America safer and it’s made America better, and it’s made America more prosperous. So, first and foremost, I want to thank you for that. (Applause.)
You know, we’re in June 12th, I think, 2019 — today — and in June 12th, 2013, I was in prison. I had hurt someone — my alcoholism; I caused a car accident in my alcoholism, driving drunk. And thank the Lord I didn’t kill that person, Mr. President.
And when I was in prison — and here I was, this trial lawyer from New Jersey — nobody asked me for money, which was really a surprise in prison. But nearly everybody asked me for a job. Everyone wanted a job to avoid crime, to reunify with their families, to pay child support. And I never forgot that.
And as my journey towards sobriety took shape, I was blessed with people like the folks in this room who gave me that second chance to contribute. And I would go on to build a very large reentry program in New Jersey. From there, I would go on to be recruited to work down here in Washington, D.C. to help do this nationally. I’ve worked with Governor Bryant. So many good people in the room.
And without a second chance, I don’t know where I would’ve been. I’m not sure if I could’ve stayed sober. I certainly know I wouldn’t have contributed the level I did.
Next month, I have my first child — a baby daughter — on the way. I have — (applause.) Thank you. I’m married, and I have the ability to be standing here with you, Mr. President. Thank you for taking on criminal justice reform.
Folks, this is the public safety issue of our time. This is a justice issue of our time. This is a civil rights issue of our time. And this is a prosperity issue of our time. And, Mr. President, thanks to you, it’s all of our time. God bless you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, John. That’s incredible. That’s an incredible story. I can’t tell you the job he’s done. So respected.
Across the federal government, we’re giving former inmates the resources they need to make the most of their new lease on life.
Today, the Federal Bureau of Prisons announced that it will work with employers to help those leaving prison to have a job lined up when they are released. Something that pretty much has never happened before.
Also, earlier today, the Department of Labor — Alex, that’s good; he’s done a great job. (Laughter.) He’s done a good job. Awarded $2 million to states to support “fidelity bonds,” which underwrite companies that hire former prisoners.
We are expanding our Second Chance Pell Grant Pilot Program to allow individuals to use their time in prison to take college-level classes. (Applause.) That’s great. That’s great. That’s great.
The Department of Energy has begun a new initiative to inform American workers, including former inmates, about great jobs in the booming energy industry. And that is a great industry. (Applause.)
And just in case you didn’t hear me say this before: We’ve now become the number-one energy producer, by far, in the world. (Applause.) We’re topping Saudi Arabia and we’re topping Russia.
Our administration is also working to allow rehabilitated citizens with a criminal record to apply for both federal government jobs and affordable housing — something that we were unable to do before. (Applause.)
Here with us today is Marcus Bullock, who went to prison as a minor in 1996 and now runs a technology company. And he’s doing a very good job. Marcus, please come up and say hello. You’re here. Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. BULLOCK: Thank you so much, Mr. President. When I was in cell C-12, I’d never thought that I would be standing here on this podium, so I’m going to suck all of this moment up while I’m standing here. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.
When I was 15 years old, I made one of the worst mistakes of my life, and it landed me in front of a judge, listening to him sentence me to eight years in adult maximum security prisons. I grew up in a prison cell, and I’ll tell you, that was one of — some of the darkest times of my life.
The depression that I fought, the battles on the prison rec yards that I saw every day, they became a big part of me, and they were — they built this dark spirit that my mom began to see. And my mom made a commitment because she wanted to understand — she wanted me to understand that there was life after prison. There would be potential days that looked like this.
And so my mom wrote me letters and she sent me pictures every day for the remaining six years of my prison sentence, until I came home, so that she could show me the window to the world.
And this is why I’m so grateful for what happens around the country, and we’re having conversations around the FIRST STEP Act and what we’re doing now with these second chances. Because even once I came home, it was still very challenging for me to get a job.
After finally finding a job at a paint store, minimum wage job — and I was very, very grateful just to be able to get a job — and it was really only because of the way that they worded one of the questions on the application, it allowed me to be able to even eventually start my first business after prison, which was a painting businesses. We ended up hiring over 18 employees. And after the 19th one, we realized that the first 16 were all returning citizens, just like me. (Applause.) Thank you.
And while we were building opportunities for other men and women to come home and have a great place to be able to work with the sustainable employment, we wanted to venture out a little bit further. And, in 2012, we started our first tech company. That tech company, Flikshop, is now a venture-backed company that connects families back to their incarcerated loved ones the same way that my mom wrote me letters and pictures when I was in prison.
We’ve connected over 140,000 families around the country. And I’m so grateful because the resources that are flowing back into these prison cells, using our tech, is building the next generation of entrepreneurs, leaders, business executives like me, and great employees at some of you all’s incredible companies.
I’m so grateful to be a small part of the solution because we do understand that this crisis is huge. But with you guys’ leadership, I feel very, very optimistic about the future of employment. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: And, tomorrow, Marcus will be announcing a run for a major public office. (Applause.) You did a good job. Huh? You guys, great job. Thank you both very much. Really fantastic.
Today, we’re also joined by many employers who are hiring former inmates and helping us build the strongest economy on Earth. We have some very successful people in this room, and we appreciate it all very much. Thank you very much. Great job. (Applause.)
Among the leaders who join us today is Steve Preston, the CEO of Goodwill. Goodwill employs and provides training and other services for more than 100,000 former inmates each and every year.
Steve, I want to thank you for the devotion and all that you do for a second chance. (Applause.) Steve. Steve. Please, Steve.
MR. PRESTON: All right. Well, thank you very much, Mr. President, for your leadership and the FIRST STEP Act, and for working with Congress to pass this in a bipartisan fashion. That just sounds great, doesn’t it?
THE PRESIDENT: It sounds great.
MR. PRESTON: Yeah, it really does. Because we know that it’s not an issue of one side of the aisle or the other. It’s an issue for the entire country. And now we all get to work together to ensure that we truly give people, who are coming back home, a real second chance.
You know, we all know about high recidivism rates, but it does not have to be that way. I know, because as the President said, last year alone, Goodwill worked with over 100,000 second chance individuals. And with the right kind of support, those recidivism rates plummet, and, in their place, come high-success rates.
So we need to provide support for people to get back on their feet, to stabilize their lives, and, so importantly, define meaningful employment — because it’s the promise of that job that often cements the path forward to a sustainable life.
And the small investment we make to do that has a return many times over, not only financially, which I think any of us could prove out, but certainly in the form of lives that are transformed both for the individuals and for their families. And it’s so important that we remember those families in this process.
So thank you again, Mr. President, for all that you are doing to be part of — to advance this important effort. Thank you guys for your stories. These are — like, there is no better testimony than to see what’s happening here. And there are other people around the country that have the same experience if they’re given the right chance. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
And I thought maybe I’d just a take moment. So, at the White House — and been with me now three and a half years, before I won, before the election — is a person, a friend, a woman — a great, great magnificent person, actually — named Sarah Huckabee Sanders. And she’s very popular. She’s very popular. (Applause.)
And — and she’s done an incredible job. We’ve been through a lot together, and she’s tough but she’s good. You know, you also have tough and bad, right? (Laughter.) She’s tough and she’s good. She’s great.
And she’s going to be leaving the service of her country, and she is going to be going — I guess you could say private sector, but I hope she’s going to — she comes from a great state, Arkansas. That was a state I won by a lot, so I like it, right? (Laughter.) But we love Arkansas, and she’s going to be going back to Arkansas with her great family — her husband, who’s a fantastic guy, and her family.
And I don’t know, Phil, and folks, if we can get her to run for the governor of Arkansas, I think she’ll do very well. And I’m trying to get her to do that. (Applause.)
But I just saw her in the room and I really wanted to call her up. She’s a special person, a very, very fine woman. She has been so great. She has such heart. She’s strong but with great, great heart. And I want to thank you for an outstanding job.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: And — thank you. Come. Thank you, honey. Say a couple words. (Applause.)
MS. SANDERS: Thank you. Thank you so much. I’ll try not to get emotional because I know that crying can make us look weak sometimes, right? (Laughter.)
This has been the honor of a lifetime, the opportunity of a lifetime. I couldn’t be prouder to have had the opportunity to serve my country and particularly to work for this President. He has accomplished so much in these two and a half years, and it’s truly been something I will treasure forever. It’s one of the greatest jobs I could ever have. I’ve loved every minute. Even the hard minutes, I have loved it.
I love the President. I love the team that I’ve had the opportunity to work for. The President is surrounded by some of the most incredible and most talented people you could ever imagine. And it’s truly the most special experience.
The only one I can think of that might top it just a little bit is the fact that I’m a mom. I have three amazing kids, and I’m going to spend a little more time with them. (Applause.)
And, in the meantime, I’m going to continue to be one of the most outspoken and loyal supporters of the President and his agenda. And I know he’s going to have an incredible six more years and get a whole lot more done, like what we’re here to celebrate today.
And I don’t want to take away from that. So I certainly want to get back to the tremendous thing that the people behind me have done.
And thank you so much, Mr. President. It’s truly an honor. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Sarah. Thank you very much. Great. Great person. Great person. Thank you, Sarah. Great.
She’s a warrior. You guys know what warriors are, right? Yeah? You’re warriors. Huh? We’re all warriors. We have no choice. (Laughter.) We have to be warriors in this world. But she is a warrior. Thank you, Sarah, very much.
We’re also glad to have with us the President of the Society for Human Resource Management, Johnny Taylor. And where’s Johnny? Where’s Johnny? Come here, Johnny. (Laughter.) Johnny. This guy is some guy and some athlete, that I can tell you.
So maybe you could just talk a little bit about what we’re doing and how well you’re doing with it, right? Thank you, Johnny.
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. TAYLOR: So I vividly remember December 2018, waking up one morning and reading in the newspaper that Congress had signed — had passed, and the President had signed, the FIRST STEP Act. I literally did not believe that would ever happen. (Laughter.) And, I mean, so much so that I got up and said, “I can’t believe it. Like, he said he’d do it. But I didn’t think it would happen.” And here we were.
And I realized there were so many people who had worked behind the scenes, people like Mark Holden, who’s here in the room from Koch Industries. So many of you had worked to make this a reality.
And the first thing I thought was: What can I do as an American to do my part in this? I represent an organization called the Society for Human Resource Management, and we represent 300,000 HR people across the globe. Our companies employ 115 million people every day. And so we said, “There’s some role that we must be able to play.”
And, instantly, it hit me: What’s the next step? What we know is that once people get out, too often — get out of incarceration — too often they return because they can’t find a job. These aren’t bad people; they’re people who are trying to survive. And we can play a role in that if we can help remove some of the barriers — those barriers that lead to high levels of recidivism. Again, no one wants to go back.
And so what we needed to do is figure out how we could play a role — the country’s human resource professionals — to remove the barrier of employment. And so we’re bringing back people back into the workplace.
So, I went back to my team; it was, of course, a week before Christmas, and they said, “Wait a minute. What? You want me to work over the weekend?” I said, “Yes.” Mark Holden and his team, Jenny. Jenny is in the room. Thank you, Jenny. We all said we’d work together on the weekend with my Chief of Staff and our team, and we came up with an idea.
Over literally a one-week period, we launched a website called “Getting Talent Back to Work.” And we got 1,500 employers across this country to immediately sign to join the movement because we needed employers to commit. It wasn’t enough to get people out of incarceration; we needed to get them employed. In a very short period of time, after announcing it with Charles Koch, Richard Branson, myself, we had people just signing up.
And so now, all of a sudden, Mr. President, your goal — your goal of getting that five times the number down to single digits — we’re going to do it. And the Society for Human Resource Management. (Applause.) SHRM and our 300,000 members are committed. We’re going to play our role. We’re going to be warriors to get these warriors back to work. Thank you. God bless you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Johnny. He’ll do it too.