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July 01, 2013

Legislation seeks to reduce recidivism and prison costs

Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) introduced legislation this month to institute programs seeking to reduce federal prison costs, lower the crime rate and reduce recidivism.

 “It is no longer enough to be tough on crime. We have to be smart on crime as well,” Chaffetz said. “The ultimate goal of this legislation is to reduce recidivism by incentivizing inmates to participate in activities and programs that help them prepare to integrate back into society.”

H.R. 2656 would implement a post-sentencing dynamic risk assessment system to identify an inmate’s risk of recidivism. Using evidence-based practices developed by states, effective recidivism reduction programs are identified and utilized, and incentives are provided for inmates to participate in those programs. Inmates would earn “good time” credits to be eligible for alternative custody arrangements by participating in several activities, including holding a prison job, participating in educational courses or faith-based services and courses, or delivering programs or faith-based services and courses to other prisoners.

Inmates would be periodically re-evaluated to determine whether their risk assessments should be changed to allow them more opportunities to earn credits.

Those who are incarcerated for certain serious crimes such as child abuse, terrorism and violent felonies would not be eligible for the program.

Scott emphasized that “we will all benefit from the effort as we will all be less likely to be victims of crime as a result of the reduced recidivism this approach has shown time and again at the state level.” States with successful recidivism risk-assessment programs include Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio and North Carolina.

The ABA has been urging the federal government to follow the states’ lead in making changes to reduce both federal prison costs and overcrowding. In addition to expanding time credits, successful state reforms include increasing the use of probation and expungement of convictions of low-level offenders, instituting a review process to accelerate supervised release eligibility, and restoring proportionality to drug sentencing.


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