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The Second Chance Act (HR1593)- What It Really Means To The Federal Inmate

May 23rd, 2008

Today, Federal Inmates who are released from Bureau of Prisons (BOP) custody receive next to no support from the Federal Government. Apart from a bus ticket, a change of clothes and a token sum of money good for a couple meals, the recently released federal inmate is entirely on his own. For those lucky enough to have the support of family and friends, the process of getting back on one’s feet, while difficult, is manageable. For those who lack this support system, the task of reintegrating into society as a law abiding citizen is one fraught with difficulties.
 Many former inmates are released from prison and return to the same environment in which they committed their crime in the first place. They return to their home branded an ex-con or felon and face an uphill battle in their attempt to get back on their feet. Both mental and physical health problems are common as are a lack of education that would qualify them for a quality job. A glaring problem facing many former inmates is the lack of a home. Faced with these hurdles, even the most well intentioned former inmates often find themselves slipping back into a life of crime. With the complete absence of support given to recently released inmates, it should come as no surprise that within three years of leaving prison, over two thirds of ex-offenders are back in court facing charges for a serious misdemeanor or felony and over one half return to life behind bars.
 The Second Chance Act (HR1593) entitled: “To reauthorize the grant program for reentry of offenders into the community in the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, to improve reentry planning and implementation, and for other purposes”, recently signed into law by President Bush attempts to offer the support to former inmates that is so lacking now and to decrease the massive recidivism rate that plagues the justice system today.
 The Second Chance Act attempts to help recently released inmates in a number of ways. It authorizes important parts of the Bush Administration’s Prison Re-entry Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to help prisoners by expanding the scope of job training and placement services, providing assistance in finding transitional housing, and assisting newly released prisoners via mentoring, including from faith-based organizations.
 The Second Chance Act also provides ex-prisoners with crucial services, like medical care and housing in addition to bolstering the current prisoner drug treatment programs and by offering various counseling programs.
 There has been much excitement amongst prisoners and their friends and relatives regarding a provision in the Second Chance Act that would allow for additional time in a half way house. Presently, federal inmates are eligible to serve the final 10% of their sentence in a halfway house, but this is capped at six months. The Second Chance Act does allow for this time to be increased to 12 months. However, the Act leaves the actual implementation of this to the BOP. This means that while the BOP now has the option of granting 12 months halfway house time, they are under no obligation to do so. Because an extension to 12 months requires additional paperwork and approval from not only the prison Warden, but from the BOP Regional Offices, the vast majority of federal inmates will find that the new law will not mean that they will see the other side of the prison walls any time sooner.
 Further, it must be understood that the only provision in the Second Chance Act for early release of federal prisoners is the section which has the BOP set up a “pilot program” in a single institution in which non-violent offenders, who are aged 65 or over and who have served a certain percentage of their sentence would be released early. A plethora of conditions have been set for just who will qualify for this pilot program and as of yet, the BOP has not even chosen the institution where the trial will take place. Many federal inmates and their families have gotten the wrong impression about the Second Chance Act, understanding it to mean that it will give them a “second chance” by granting them an earlier release date. This is unfortunately, not the case.
 Indeed, the bill that would have granted a genuine second chance to federal inmates is entitled HR 262 and was introduced in January of 2007. It would have provided for a 50% sentence reduction for first time, non-violent offenders over the age of 45. Understandably, this bill has been a beacon of hope for many inmates. But unfortunately, it will die at the end of this term of Congress without ever receiving committee, let alone House, vote.
 Assuming the approval of funding, it appears that the Second Chance Act will be of great assistance to those being released from prison who lack the support system so crucial to a successful reintegration into society. However, many are sure to be disappointed that it does not offer a true second chance to those currently incarcerated by reducing the amount of time served.