For ex-offenders – convicted felons who have gone through the criminal justice system, paid their debts and who are now facing the daunting task of re-entry into society – opportunities in the free world may be somewhat diminished. Fortunately for those who may find themselves in this situation, there are several grant programs offered by the federal government set in place with the intention of smoothing the transition from the clink to the streets.
Ex-offenders deal with a loss of civil rights, severed or lost ties to friends and family, and the seemingly indelible social stain of a criminal record. These "collateral consequences of incarceration," as they are referred to by prisoner advocacy groups, can have a real dampening effect for ex-offenders looking to put their lives in order and start a new chapter as a productive member of the community.
The Second Chance Act
The federal government – under the provisions of the Second Chance Act signed into law in 2008 – has disbursed hundreds of millions of dollars to federal agencies. The funds support the Department of Labor's ex-offender re-entry job training programs and state and nonprofit organizations' programs seeking to re-educate, counsel, and provide substance abuse treatment and job placement.
The funds made available through the Second Chance Act are distributed annually through the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). These disbursements are offered to state, local, territorial and tribal governments which respond to BJA solicitations for various programs, such as juvenile and adult "mentoring" educational and training programs.
Information on these Second Chance Act mentorship program grants (an example of which would be the Second Chance Act Juvenile Mentoring Initiative), as well as annual solicitations for project proposals, can be found on the National Re-entry Resource Center website, https://csgjusticecenter.org/nrrc/.
Federal Student Aid
Many ex-offenders will find, depending on the state they live in, that they are barred from receiving housing assistance, help from some welfare programs, and student aid. However, under the Department of Education's (DOE) Federal Student Aid program, many ex-convicts may receive grants for higher education (known as Pell Grants).
According to the DOE Guide to Federal Student Aid, an ex-offender may receive federal grants for education so long as they were not convicted of possessing or distributing illegal drugs while receiving student aid. Applications for these grants may be obtained through the DOE Free Application for Federal Student Aid, fafsa.ed.gov.
Ex-offender Veteran Assistance
In 2010, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management of the Department of Labor was mandated by Congress to disburse $4 million in grants to state and local governments, as well as nonprofit groups under the Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program. These grants may be awarded to governmental workforce investment boards, commercial treatment centers, or to 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organizations toward the end of providing employment training, education, housing and health care to ex-offender veterans.
The maximum grant award available to applicants under this program is $500,000.
Applications for grants under this program may be found through the Department of Labor or through Grants.gov.