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Reupping Second Chance Act for those exiting prison

Wed, Feb 5, 2014



U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Chicago) and U.S. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are teaming up again on the five-year reauthorization of the Second Chance Act, which provides federal money for programs that help people leaving prison reintegrate into their communities. As an example, Portman cited Ohio recidivism rates, which dropped by double digits thanks to the Second Chance Act of 2007. In particular he described a man who was incarcerated six times before he finally received substance abuse treatment and his GED. Four years later, the man is clean and sober and working full-time.

Calling the Second Chance Act “one of the most relevant and successful pieces of legislation passed in the last decade,” Portman said the reauthorization has something that is rare: bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. “They all agree they want to reduce crime, give the taxpayers a better deal, let families come together and let people use their God-given abilities.”

“I thank Senator Portman for his understanding and his leadership. He was there when we started and he is there today,” Davis said of his landmark legislation during the November 13 press conference phone call.

“We know the United States is the most incarcerated nation in the world, with more people in prison than anywhere else in the world,” Davis said. “Many have been there before and most, when they get out, will return to where they were living. If they receive no help, within three years, two-thirds will be victims of recidivism; 50 percent will be back within five years. If we help them, recidivism will go down. If they are able to obtain a meaningful job, many need never see prison again.”

Later that day, Davis and U.S. Rep James F. Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced HR 3465, the Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2013, which was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Portman and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced their similar bill, S1690, which was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Leahy.

Signed into law in April 2008, the Second Chance Act provides grants through the U.S. Department of Justice that help formerly incarcerated people through programs for mentoring, substance abuse treatment, mental health disorders and technology career training. Nearly 500 grants totaling $250 million have gone to state and local governments, nonprofits and federally recognized Native American tribes. More than 11,000 individuals have been served pre-release and 9,500 afterward. In the three years after its passage, recidivism fell between 11 and 18 percent in the states of Texas, Michigan, Kansas and Ohio, according to a study by the Council of State Governments quoted in “A Second Chance: Charting a New Course for Re-Entry and Criminal Justice Reform.” The study was released November 13 by The Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of 200 organizations that has lobbied on behalf of every major civil rights law since 1957.



“Unfortunately, from the beginning, the Second Chance Act has been underfunded,” according to “A Second Chance.” “In only one year of the four following its passage was the full $100 million budget request granted by Congress. In 2012, it was allotted only $63 million. As a result, the programs it supports, while effective, are just a drop in the bucket of reforms that are needed to fully reintegrate former prisoners into their communities.”

The Leadership Council’s “A Second Chance” study says that by 2010, more than 2.2 million Americans – more than one percent of the population – were behind bars. The U.S. has had the world’s largest prison population since 1991.

Roughly 700,000 people are released from U.S. prisons each year.

As of 2007, African-Americans comprised 900,000 of the nation’s inmates; 10 percent of the nation’s 18- to 24-year-old black men are incarcerated at any given moment. Hispanics comprise more than half of new admissions to the federal prison system. Meanwhile, more than 800,000 of the nation’s prisoners have a child under 18; that’s 2.3 percent of all American kids.

Nearly 40 percent of incarcerated individuals over 18 have dropped out of high school, compared to just 14 percent of the general population, according to “A Second Chance.” The study recommends more programs for GED and higher education in prisons. In addition, it says hiring standards should consider only convictions recent enough to indicate risk along with evidence of rehabilitation.

Joining the two members of Congress in the November 13 press conference phone call were Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Michael Thompson, director of the Council of State Governments, as well as Daniel Jackson, a formerly incarcerated individual who participated in a Second Chance Act program in Maryland.

Jackson was incarcerated for theft from his employer two years ago and served 74 days. He returned to substance abuse during his probation, a violation that sent him back to the county jail.

However, while Jackson was in a treatment program there he learned that the trauma of his father’s death may have been the reason for his abuse. Likewise, his own son could be similarly traumatized by his time away in jail. “I learned that he might be incarcerated because I was.”

Jackson began to visit his son via Skype and in the year he has been back in the community he has cut his hours at work to reinforce the bond with his son.

Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief


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