United States Department of Education Update

Article excerpt

Detailed information on the proposed 2010 federal budget reflecting priorities of a new administration has been anxiously anticipated and is being released just as I must submit my final text for this Journal. Review of these budget documents reveals Second Chance Act funding in the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs - a proposed increase from $25 million in 2009 to $100 million in 2010. These dollars would support the Adult and Juvenile Offender Demonstration Projects, Mentoring Grants to Nonprofit Organizations, and a National Adult and Juvenile Offender Resources Center. An additional $13.8 million is included in the administration's proposed budget to fund a new Inmates Skills Development Program in the Bureau of Prisons, an initiative also called for in the Second Chance Act. All together, $88.8 million of new funding is included to implement the Second Chance Act, an initiative long and actively supported by the Correctional Education Association. Please note that this is the proposed budget being submitted to Congress for further deliberation and action with a scheduled implementation date of October 1, 2009. ("U.S. Department of Justice FY 2010 Budget Request," U.S. Department of Justice web site, May 7, 2009.)

With the notable exception of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, prisons and detention facilities are primarily State and locally operated and financed facilities. They have not traditionally garnered extensive federal interest, but this may be changing. Virginia Senator Jim Webb provides an interesting example. When he appeared on the stage at the National Press Club on December 5, 2008 for the release of a paper by Harvard Sociologist Bruce Western titled "From Prison to Work, A Proposal for a National Prisoner Reentry Program," many of us in the authence expected to hear this co-sponsor of the Second Chance Act open the day's meeting with brief and highly scripted remarks repeating common statistics and arguments pertaining to the urgency of enhanced prisoner rehabilitation and reentry efforts. Instead, Senator Webb spoke at length and took questions from the authence. He shared personal experiences and perceptions related to criminal justice based largely on his military career. His strong personal statements clearly reflected his concern about the implications of criminal justice issues on our national health and prosperity. He expressed special concern about the status of America's prisons, and frankly both surprised and woke up his authence.

Senator Webb has not turned away from this issue since December. Those who saw the cover of Parade magazine's March 29, 2009 issue saw these words superimposed over an image of hands folded together through the bars of a prison cell: "What's Wrong With Our Prisons by Senator Jim Webb." And if you had visited the official web site of the Senator on this May morning as I just did, you would have seen this headline on his front page: "Webb, Specter Introduce Bill to Overhaul Americas Criminal Justice System." In January the New York Times said of Webb, "Most elected officials, afraid of being tarred as soft on crime, ignore these problems. Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat of Virginia, is now courageously stepping into the void, calling for a national commission to reassess criminal justice policy." (The New York Times, editorial, January 1, 2009)

The senator began his Parade magazine article with the words: "America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace." His bill to establish a comprehensive reform commission, now with 27 co-sponsors in the Senate, begins with a series of 16 "findings." These cover such topics as America's world leading incarceration rate, disproportionate minority incarceration, prison violence, quality of prison management, recidivism rates, spending on corrections, prison gangs, the failure of current national drug policies, the use of prisons as holding centers for the mentally ill, and American prisons as threats to public health. …