03.12.08

H.R. 1593, The Second Chance Act of 2007

Senate Passes Bill To Help Inmates Adapt After Release Bill Now Heads To President’s Desk For Signature

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, March 12, 2008) – The Senate last night unanimously  passed bipartisan legislation to give Federal, state and local governments additional tools to help inmates more successfully reintegrate into their communities upon release.  The Recidivism Reduction and Second Chance Act was introduced in the Senate by Judiciary Committee members Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), and co-sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).  It passed the Judiciary Committee last August but consideration in the Senate was stymied.  The Senate yesterday passed the companion House bill, and it will now be sent to the President for signature.

The Second Chance Act of 2007 will give grants to local governments and organizations to help provide literacy classes, job training, education programs and substance abuse and rehabilitation programs for inmates.  The legislation also establishes a task force to determine ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Federal programs related to prisoner reentry.  The bill takes another step toward the goal of reducing the nationwide recidivism rate of 66 percent and decreasing the annual nationwide $8.2 billion dollar cost of incarceration.

“The Second Chance Act will go a long way to help these ex-offenders reintegrate into the community and become productive, contributing members of our community.  Congress has passed this critical legislation, and I hope the President quickly signs it into law,” said Biden.  “The only way to close the revolving prison door is to open another one.”

“I am very pleased that my Senate colleagues were able to pass legislation that will help combat the high rates of prisoner recidivism in America,” said Brownback.  “Everybody – the ex-offender, the ex-offender’s family, and society at large – benefits from programs that equip prisoners with the proper tools to successfully reintegrate into life outside of the prison walls.  I am hopeful that with this legislation we will begin to see tangible results as governments and non-profit organizations work together to help ex-offenders.”

“While I believe strongly in securing tough and appropriate prison sentences for people who break our laws, we must also do everything we can to ensure that when these people get out of prison, they enter our communities as productive members of society,” said Leahy.  “We must reverse the dangerous cycles of recidivism and violence.  After many years of hard work to find the right compromise on this bill, we can begin that important work.”

 

“I commend my colleagues for passing this important legislation,” said Specter.  “The Second Chance Act takes direct aim at reducing recidivism rates by improving the transition of ex-offenders from prison back into our communities. Through common sense and cost-effective measures, it offers a second chance for ex-offenders and the children and families who depend on them.”

 

The legislation has the support of more than 200 civil rights, justice, faith-based and community organizations, including the American Bar Association (ABA), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Prison Fellowship.

 

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On H.R. 1593, The Second Chance Act of 2007

March 11, 2008

 

I was pleased to join Senators Specter, Biden, and Brownback last year as an original co-sponsor of S. 1060, the Recidivism Reduction and Second Chance Act, and to help to shepherd that legislation through the Senate Judiciary Committee.  I am pleased that now our hard work will finally enable us to take up and pass the House version of the legislation, which represents significant work and compromise on the part of the bill’s Senate sponsors as well as those in the House, in order to move this important bill one step closer to becoming law. 

 

Over the past several years that we have been working on this bill, I and others have had to make many painful compromises in order to ensure that this important bill could receive the support it needs to pass and become law.  In spite of these sacrifices, the Second Chance Act is a good first step toward a new direction in criminal justice that focuses on making America safer by helping prisoners turn their lives around and become contributing members of society. 

 

In recent years, this Congress and the States have passed a myriad of new criminal laws creating more and longer sentences for more and more crimes.  As a result, this country sends more and more people to prison every year.  There are currently more than two million people in jail or prison, and there are more than 13 million people who spend some time in jail or prison each year.  Most of these people will at some point return to our communities.  What kind of experience inmates have in prison, how we prepare them to rejoin society, and how we integrate them into the broader community when they get out are issues that profoundly affect the communities in which we live. 

 

As a former prosecutor, I believe strongly in securing tough and appropriate prison sentences for people who break our laws.  But it is also important that we do everything we can to ensure that when these people get out of prison, they enter our communities as productive members of society, so we can start to reverse the dangerous cycles of recidivism and violence.  I hope that the Second Chance Act will help us begin to break that cycle. 

 

The Second Chance Act would fund collaborations between state and local corrections agencies, nonprofits, educational institutions, service providers, and families to ensure that offenders released into society have the resources and support they need to become contributing members of the community.  The bill would require that the programs supported by these grants demonstrate measurable positive results, including a reduction in recidivism.  We should be supporting good programs and demanding results for our federal tax dollars.

 

The bill would also set up a task force to determine ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of federal programs related to prisoner reentry and would authorize additional programs that would encourage employment of released prisoners, improve substance abuse treatment programs for prisoners, and assist the children of prisoners. 

 

I want to thank Senator Biden, Senator Specter, and Senator Brownback for consistently working with me to make a good bill even better.  They accepted my suggestion to fix a provision that would have made it difficult for states without large urban areas to obtain grants.  They also agreed with me that it made sense for victim services agencies to have a role in administering grants, for victims’ needs to be specifically addressed by grants authorized by the bill, and for safeguards to be added to provisions aiming to integrate families of offenders in order to ensure that children are protected. 

 

They also worked with me to include in the Senate’s legislation an important study of the collateral consequences of criminal convictions federally and in the States, which would encourage appropriate policy to help successfully reintegrate released offenders into society.  I am disappointed that partisan and unprincipled objections prevented this study, which is very important but in no way provocative, from being a part of the final bill.  I am glad to report, though, that this important study was passed into law in December as part of the Court Security Improvement Act of 2007.  I am similarly glad that we are moving now to pass the best version of the Second Chance Act that we can.

 

I thank the Vermont Department of Corrections and the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services for helping me to identify important improvements and to make this bill better for the people of Vermont and the people of America.  The Vermont Department of Corrections and many others in Vermont strongly support the Second Chance Act, which gives me confidence that this legislation we pass today represents an important step in making our country safer. 

 

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