The Labor Department is awarding nearly $20 million in grants to religious and community groups to help people released from prison find jobs and make their way back into society.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao announced the grants in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. The money will go to 30 organizations to fund projects in 20 states.

"Everyone deserves a second chance," Chao said.

Job training and placement, mentoring and counseling are among the types of services that the groups will provide to nonviolent ex-offenders, she said. That's defined as an adult who has never been convicted of a violent or sex-related offense.

The department hopes to help some 6,250 released prisoners through the grants, Chao said.

"When ex-offenders return to the community they need help," Chao said. "Faith-based organizations in urban centers — because they are so much part of the community — can be of tremendous assistance in reintegrating these ex-offenders back into the community. What we hope will happen is that there will be a holistic approach in helping these ex-offenders."

The grants are being offered through President Bush's prisoner re-entry initiative, which emerged from the president's 2004 State of the Union address. The initiative aims not only to aid ex-prisoners find employment when they return to their communities but also to help urban areas that have large numbers of returning ex-prisoners deal with these challenges.

The grants are the first under this initiative, although the department has previously provided funding to faith-based and community groups in certain areas for "demonstration projects" that offered an array of services to ex-offenders, Chao said.

About 549 applications were submitted to the department for a slice of the grants, which total $19.8 million. Most grants were in the range of around $660,000 a piece.

Recipients include: Metro United Methodist Urban Ministry in San Diego, Calif., $665,935; Odyssey House Louisiana, $684,250; and Goodwill Industries of San Antonio, $663,045.