11.13.13

Leahy, Portman Introduce Legislation To Support Ex-Offenders & Reduce Crime

. . Second Chance Reauthorization Act Would Extend Successful Programs

WASHINGTON -- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) introduced bipartisan legislation Wednesday to reauthorize the Second Chance Act, a law that supports state and local reentry programs to reduce recidivism.  

Wednesday’s bill introduction comes as the Judiciary Committee is considering ways to reduce prison costs for federal, state and local governments. The Second Chance Act, which was first enacted in 2008, aims to tackle those costs by improving prisoner reentry policy at the state and federal levels, ultimately decreasing the number of repeat offenders.

“As a former prosecutor, I believe strongly in securing tough and appropriate prison sentences for people who break our laws,” Leahy said. “It is also important that we do everything we can to ensure that when people get out of prison, they enter our communities as productive members of society, so we can start to reverse the dangerous cycle of recidivism and violence.  The Second Chance Reauthorization Act helps break this cycle.”

Leahy and Portman joined in 2011 to introduce a similar reauthorization bill to the one they introduced today.  Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), coordinating in a bipartisan, bicameral effort, introduced a companion bill in the House today.

“Second Chance works, and that is why we have joined together to craft a reauthorization bill for the legislation that has strong bipartisan support,” Portman said. “We all want to reduce the crime and violence that plagues our communities; that we read about in the paper and see on the news every night. Rather than incarcerating repeat offenders in the same families generation after generation, we can put our taxpayer dollars to better use to break this vicious cycle and turn lives around. The ultimate goal of our criminal justice system is to make our families and our communities safer. The work done under the Second Chance Act helps us to accomplish that goal, one life at a time.”

The Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2013 (S. 1690) reauthorizes the law for five years. Key provisions in the bill would:

 

  • Provide support for planning and implementation of key reentry projects to ensure that those projects use methods proven through testing and review to lead to meaningful reductions in recidivism rates;
  • Offer grant funding for creative job training programs;
  • Expand eligible applicants for several programs to include nonprofit organizations;
  • Repeal several programs that have not been funded or have been completed, and consolidate other programs to ensure that federal dollars are effectively spent; and
  • Require periodic audits of grantees to ensure that federal dollars are responsibly spent; grantees with unresolved audits will not be eligible for funding in future years.

An outline of the Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2013 can be found here. A sectional analysis of the bill is available here, and text of legislation can be found here.

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 Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Introduction of the Second Chance Reauthorization Act
November 13, 2013

Today I join with Senator Portman to introduce the bipartisan Second Chance Reauthorization Act, a bill that builds on recent successes and takes important new steps to ensure that people coming out of prison have the opportunity to turn their lives around, rather than returning to a life of crime.  Investing in community-based reentry programs prevents crime, reduces prison costs, improves public safety, and saves taxpayer dollars.  It is also the right thing to do.

This important legislation improves federal reentry policy and funds collaborations between state and local corrections agencies, nonprofits, educational institutions, service providers, and families to ensure that former offenders have the resources and support they need to become contributing members of the community.  Our bill also seeks to expand upon the successes of the original Second Chance Act by continuing, improving, and consolidating its programs, while reauthorizing these important grant programs at reduced levels in recognition of current fiscal constraints. 

In 2008, I joined with Senators Biden, Specter, and Brownback as an original cosponsor of the Second Chance Act, and helped to shepherd that legislation through the Senate.  I was proud when the Senate recognized the value of the Second Chance Act and, after a great deal of work and compromise, passed the bill unanimously.

The bipartisan spirit of this legislation also continues in the House, where today Representatives Sensenbrenner and Davis will introduce an identical version of the Senate bill authored by myself and Senator Portman.  Together, we have been working hard for the past several months to reach an agreement that is fair, fiscally responsible, and meets the needs of key stakeholders.  As a result, we have the support of faith groups, law enforcement, and community groups who provide services to the mentally ill and those struggling with addiction.  This broad coalition has one thing in common - we all want to see our justice system work better. 

In the past few decades, Congress and the states have passed new criminal laws creating longer sentences for more and more crimes.  As a result, our country currently incarcerates more than two million people, and more than 13 million people spend some time in jail or prison each year.  This has resulted in severely stretched budgets and we have fewer resources for programs that actually prevent crime in the first place.  We cannot afford to stay on our current path, and I am working on separate legislation to address the exploding costs of our federal prisons.  The Second Chance Reauthorization Act helps support innovative reentry programs at the state and local level which have brought down costs and reduced recidivism, and the federal system should replicate these efforts.

More than 650,000 ex-offenders are released from prison each year.  The experience inmates have in prison, how we prepare them to rejoin society, and how we integrate them into the broader community when they are released are issues that profoundly affect the communities in which we live. 

  

The Second Chance Act funds grants for key reentry programs and requires that these programs demonstrate measurable positive results, including a reduction in recidivism. 

The Second Chance Act of 2008 authorized research into educational methods used in prisons and jails.  Today’s reauthorization bill directs the Attorney General to review that research, identify best practices, and implement them in our prisons and jails. 

The bill also makes nonprofit organizations eligible for grants promoting family-based substance abuse treatment and training in technology careers.  It gives priority consideration to applicants that conduct individualized post-release employment planning, demonstrate connections to employers within the local community, or track and monitor employment outcomes.

This legislation also makes improvements to federal reentry policy that have the added benefit of reducing Bureau of Prison costs.  It continues the successful Elderly and Family Reunification for Certain Non-Violent Offenders Pilot Program and expands the pool of inmates eligible to apply for the program. 

Finally, the Second Chance Reauthorization Act promotes accountability by requiring periodic audits of grantees to ensure that federal dollars are spent responsibly.  Grantees who have unresolved audit problems will not be eligible for funding in future years.

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 people get out of prison, they enter our communities as productive members of society, so we can start to reverse the dangerous cycle of recidivism and violence.  The Second Chance Reauthorization Act helps break this cycle.

I thank Senator Portman, Representative Sensenbrenner, and Representative Davis for their hard work and cooperation in leading these efforts.  We have come together in a truly exceptional way in this bipartisan, bicameral effort.  I am proud of the work we have done so far and I look forward to joining with Democrats and Republicans to get this bill passed and signed into law.

I ask unanimous consent that that a copy of the bill be printed in the Record.

 

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