The ABA expressed support this month for introduction of legislation to reauthorize the Second Chance Act of 2008, which provides resources to improve success rates for people released from prison and jail.
“The ABA, with over 350,000 members from across the nation, believes that reauthorization of the 2008 act is essential to providing continuity for its evidence-based and cost-effective support for programs that improve reentry from prisons, jails and juvenile facilities and that serve, not incidentally, to advance public safety,” ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman wrote in a June 4 letter to Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who introduced a Second Chance Act reauthorization bill in the Senate that day, and Reps. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who plan to introduce a House bill shortly.
Susman pointed out that more than half of the 9 million individuals released from prisons and jails each year are reincarcerated within three years of their release. He emphasized, however, that this high level of recidivism is not inevitable. Research confirms that targeted “smart-on-crime” policies supporting comprehensive coordinated services can help formerly incarcerated individuals find stable employment and housing, thereby reducing recidivism and reliance on incarceration and, as an additional public benefit, reducing public spending on corrections.
Susman said that state and local governments, as well as community and faith-based organizations, are in dire need of the bill’s resources, which coordinate reentry services and policies so that tax dollars spent on corrections do not “simply fuel a revolving door in and out of prison.”
“This legislation builds on the success of the original law and takes important new steps to ensure that people coming out of prison are given a fair chance to turn their lives around,” Leahy said, emphasizing that it would be irresponsible not to continue supporting programs that are succeeding across the country with Second Chance Act grants. He noted that North Carolina, with six grants, has reduced its recidivism rate by 18.1 percent since 2007 and that Georgia’s recidivism rate has dropped by 13.5 percent through 13 grants.
In addition to provisions improving state and local grant programs and promoting accountability of grantees, the Senate bill, S. 1513, includes provisions to help decrease the large prison population. The fastest growing segment of inmates − prisoners age 50 and older – cost 8 percent more on average to incarcerate than younger inmates primarily because of higher medical expenses, according to the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General. Costs for older inmates can be as high as two to three times more, and those costs are increasing at a faster rate than for other inmates. The legislation would make inmates 60 and older eligible for release to home detention after serving two-thirds of their sentences and would provide prison officials with more discretion to recommend the early release of older inmates, who are less likely to re-offend upon their release.
“This legislation sends a message that there’s a better way than living a life of crime,” Portman said, emphasizing that the ultimate goal of the legislation is to “make families and communities strong, save taxpayer dollars and improve the criminal justice system.”