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August 01, 2011

Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Second Chance Act Reauthorization

ABA says bill would provide “crucial resources”

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation July 21 to reauthorize the Second Chance Act, which provides resources for coordinating reentry services and policies for former inmates trying to successfully return to their communities.

The bill, S. 1231, would authorize $115 million for the act’s grant program in fiscal year 2012 and gradually increase the annual authorization amount to $155 million by fiscal year 2016. Programs funded by Second Chance Act grants at the state, tribal and local levels include demonstration projects, reentry courts, family-centered activities, substance abuse treatment, employment counseling, mentoring and other services needed to improve transition from prison and jail to communities.

The ABA believes that the Second Chance Act, originally enacted in 2008 with strong bipartisan support, provides “crucial resources at a time when they are desperately needed” and is a “common sense, evidence-based approach to reducing recidivism and improving public safety.” In a July 12 letter supporting the committee’s approval of the bill, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman explained that reauthorization of the act is a critical opportunity for a modest investment in “back-end” crime prevention that represents a tiny fraction of federal spending on the criminal justice system.

Susman noted that more than 9 million individuals are released from jail each year, and research indicates that more than half are reincarcerated within three years of release. He said that research also confirms, however, that comprehensive coordinated services can help formerly incarcerated individuals find stable employment and housing, thereby reducing recidivism.   

Susman expressed ABA support for provisions that would help offset federal spending on reentry programs while addressing the dangerous overcrowding within the Bureau of Prisons. The provisions recalculate time credits for a prisoners’ good behavior in a manner that conforms with federal law requiring prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) emphasized that the bill takes “important new steps to ensure that people coming out of prison do not simply return to a life of crime.”

The committee’s 10-7 vote approving S. 1231 came after members amended the bill to exclude certain prisoners from participating in the reentry programs. As amended by the committee, the legislation would extend programs only to prisoners who were not convicted of a felony, sex offense or crime committed with a deadly weapon. An additional amendment extended the restriction to exclude those convicted of a violent felony, rape, sex offense against a minor, or a drug offense involving a deadly weapon.

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