News and Announcements

Second Chance Act Introduced in Senate

PAGE S12014
Oct. 27, 2005


By Mr. SPECTER (for himself, Mr. BIDEN, Mr. BROWNBACK, Mr. TALENT, Mr.

    S. 1934. A bill to reauthorize the grant program of the Department of
Justice for reentry of offenders into the community, to establish a task
force on Federal programs and activities relating to the reentry of
offenders into the community, and for other purposes; to the Committee on
the Judiciary.

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I have sought recognition to introduce,
along with Senators BIDEN and BROWNBACK, the Second Chance Act of 2005:
Community Safety through Recidivism Prevention. This legislation is designed
to reduce recidivism among adult and juvenile ex-offenders. Never before in
our history have so many individuals been released from prison and never
before in our history have so many ex-offenders been is prepared to reenter
their communities. Each year, more than 650,000 individuals are released,
which roughly equates to about 1,700 individuals returning communities each
day. This number is expected to grow in the near future as more inmates
complete their prison terms. For most offenders, the transition back into
their communities is difficult because many lack the necessary skill to
ensure a successful reentry. Many suffer from serious substance abuse
addictions and mental health issues. Many have difficulty securing a job or
adequate housing and often find themselves lured back to a life of crime. A
study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that over
two-thirds of released prisoners were rearrested within three years and
one-half of those rearrested were convicted and re-incarcerated. This high
rate of recidivism devastates our towns and communities and puts an enormous
strain on state and local budgets.

    The Second Chance Act reauthorizes the Adult and Juvenile Offender
Reentry Demonstration projects, authorizing the Attorney General to make
grants to States and local governments to establish offender reentry
projects, with an enhanced focus on job training, housing, substance abuse
and mental health treatment, and working with children and families. It also
creates a new grant program available to nonprofit organizations for the
purpose of providing mentoring and other transitional services essential to
reintegrating ex-offenders. The Second Chance Act encourages new community
partnerships to help educate, train, and employ these individuals who might
otherwise return to a life of crime.

    Many ex-offenders are often stigmatized by their incarceration, and must
face the reality that many employers are reluctant to hire them. A National
Adult Literacy Study determined that a majority of prisoners are either
illiterate or have marginal reading, writing, and math skills. Following the
repeal of Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals, I worked to
create the Grants to States for Workplace and Community Transition Training
for Incarcerated Youth Offenders program.  This program is aimed at
providing post-secondary education, employment counseling, and workplace and
community transition training for incarcerated youth offenders while in
prison, which continue for up to one year after the individual is released.
The current program limits expenditures per youth offender to $1,500 for
tuition and books, and only allows an additional $300 for other related
services. The Second Chance Act builds upon my earlier efforts by increasing
State’s flexibility and accountability within the grant program. It removes
the cap and raises the allowable expenditure permitted for each youth
offender to the maximum level of Pell Grants. One of the keys to preventing
recidivism is access to education an in recognizing the impact that
education an job training can have on incarcerated offenders. It is my
sincere hope that this legislation will encourage incarcerated individuals
to achieve their independence and to gain the necessary skills to become
productive members of society.

    Another crisis that well face is the growing populations of prisoners
who are parents. More than half of those currently incarcerated are parents
of minor children. Female incarceration rates are increasing faster than
those men, totaling 7 percent of the prison population. Of those
incarcerated, 80 percent are mothers with, on average two dependent
children. What is most troubling is that two-thirds of their children are
younger than the age of 10. The incarceration of a parent can have a
tremendous impact on childhood development. Prison presents a unique
opportunity to improve a prisoner’s ability to become a better part once
they are released. Unfortunately, many of our prisons do not employ such
programs, due to fiscal constraints as well as a shift in priorities. The
Second Chance Act of 2005 encourages the creating of programs that
facilitate visitation, if it is in the best interest of the child. It also
directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish services to
help preserve family units, with special attention paid to the impact on the
child of an incarcerated parent.

    There is ample evident that well-designed reentry programs reduce
recidivism. Programs such as aftercare for substance abusers and adult
vocational education have shown to reduce recidivism up to 15 percent.
These programs pay for themselves by reducing future correction costs
associated with re-housing these individuals upon their return back into the
institution. The revolving door of prisons not only hurts those who are
caught up in the process, but hurts their families and our communities. If
we fail to address this problem, we are burdening our communities not only
with greater expenditures, but in the risk of increased crime and unsafe
neighborhoods. The more we can do to prepare these individuals when they
return home, the better off we will all be.  I urge my colleagues to join me
in cosponsoring this legislation, and urge its swift adoption.

    Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, Senator SPECTER, Senator BROWNBACK, and I
introduce today the Second Chance Act of 2005, which takes direct aim at
reducing recidivism rates for our nation’s ex-offenders and improving the
transition for these offenders from prison back into the community.

    All too often we think about today, but not tomorrow. We look to
short-term solutions for long-term problems. We need to have a change in
thinking and approach. It’s time we face the dire situation of prisoners
reentering our communities with insufficient monitoring, little nor no job
skills, inadequate drug treatment, insufficient housing, lack of positive
influences, a pap city of basic physical and mental health services, and
deficient basic life skills.

    The bill we introduce today is about providing a second chance for these
ex-offenders, and the children and families that depend on them.  It’s about
strengthening communities and ensuring safe neighborhoods.

    Since my 1994 Crime Bill passed, we’ve had great success in cutting down
on crime rates in this country. Under the Community Oriented Policing
Services, COPS, program, we’ve funded over 100,000 officers all across the
country. And our crime rate has plummeted.

    But there’s a record number of people currently serving time in our
country-over 2 million in our federal and state prisons; with millions more
in local jails. And 95 percent of all prisoners we lock up today will
eventually get out. That equals nearly 650,000 being released from federal
or state prisons to communities each year.

    If we are going to continue the downward trend of crime rates, we simply
have to make strong, concerted, and common-sense efforts now to help
ex-prisoners successfully reenter and reintegrate to their communities=