Confronting Recidivism: Inmate Reentry and the Second Chance Act of 2005

Article excerpt

Authors' Note: This article is an edited version of written testimony presented to the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Government Reform, Oversight Hearing, by Reginald A. Wilkinson on Feb. 2, 2005.

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There is a growing national movement in corrections embracing offender reentry. Remarkably, in a relatively short span of time, an impressive array of efforts has been launched at all levels of government and by public policy institutes and community organizations to build more effective and innovative responses to the myriad of challenges presented by reentry. These efforts clearly demonstrate that reentry is not a fad; it is here to stay.

Since the late 1990s, the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., has hosted a series of reentry roundtables to assess the state of knowledge and to publish specialized reports on this topic. Leaders in the field, academicians, policymakers and many others have gathered periodically to debate and share what is known about the challenges and issues that must be addressed to ensure successful reentry transitions for offenders. (1)

The National Institute of Corrections has launched the significant Transition From Prison to Community project to offer technical assistance and support to a select number of states relative to transforming their systems governing reentry.

In 2001, the U.S. Department of Justice and a broad consortium of federal agencies forged a unique, path-breaking partnership by providing a total of $100 million in grant funding spread across all 50 states to address reentry planning and programming for serious, violent felony offenders. Known as the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative, its continuing importance to the field has been reinforced by additional funding for a comprehensive, multiyear, multisite evaluation of selected states' systems of reentry (see www.svori-evalution.org).

President Bush, in his 2004 State of the Union address, urged Congress to allocate substantial funding over four years to support the reentry transition of offenders. His recitation that "America is the land of second chance" will resonate with corrections professionals for years to come.

In mid-September 2004, Cleveland was the site of the first National Conference on Offender Reentry sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice and the other federal agencies involved in the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative. More than 1,400 attendees participated in the conference.

The Re-Entry Policy Council recently released the Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council: Charting the Safe and Successful Return of Prisoners to the Community, a landmark report that offers a comprehensive set of bipartisan, consensus-based recommendations for policy-makers and practitioners interested in improving the likelihood that adults released from prison or jail will avoid crime and become productive and healthy members of both their families and communities. The Council of State Governments partnered with 10 other national organizations to compile this report, which comprises hundreds of recommendations and research findings related to employment, public safety, housing, health, families, faith-based initiatives and victims. These recommendations are consistent with the provisions proposed in landmark legislation known as the Second Chance Act of 2005.

Confronting Recidivism

The Second Chance Act of 2005: Community Safety Through Recidivism Prevention, recognizes the many complex issues affecting individuals released from prison or jail that must be addressed to ensure that they are not rearrested after their return to the community. The legislation, which encourages state and local governments to craft solutions that span agencies and engage community-based partners, was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Danny Davis, D-Ill., Howard Coble, R-N. …