Bill would help ex-inmates reintegrate into society

The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet next week to address prison reform and will give special attention to difficulties faced by the 650,000 prisoners who reenter society each year after incarceration.

“There are many more people coming out of prison today,” said Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who will testify at the June 28 hearing, “The states, governors and corrections officers are eager and hungry for new ways of addressing these issues.”

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) has drafted a companion bill to the 2005 Second Chance Act, which was reintroduced in the House in April.  He is still working with potential co-sponsors on the legislative language but could be ready to introduce it within the next two weeks, according to spokesman Brian Hart.

The House bill, H.R. 1704, would help set up infrastructure to help former offenders reintegrate into society.

Originally sponsored by Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) after the departure of Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is now U.S. trade representative, it would “reauthorize the grant program by the Department of Justice for the reentry of offenders into the community” and create a task force that would examine federal programs to reassimilate offenders.

In addition to extending support to several existing programs, including the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act and the Federal Resource Center for the Children of Prisoners, the legislation would authorize $40 million for fiscal year 2005 and 2006 in grants to states and local governments, $1 million to establish “assessment tools to study parole violations and revocations” and $15 million for “mentoring grants” for adult offenders, according to the Re-Entry Policy Council.

The bill has 50 bipartisan co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. The Bush administration has committed $20 million to smooth the transition for ex-offenders.

In 2002, $60 billion was spent on corrections according to a Re-Entry Policy Council report.

A spokesman for Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), who chairs the Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee and is a co-sponsor of the legislation, said that while no hearing is scheduled to review the legislation, the lawmaker intends to pursue the matter.

 According to Travis, every day 1,700 people leave prison and are faced with the uncertainty of rebuilding their lives. Of nearly 650,000 people released from prison each year, two- thirds are rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within three years.

There are 3,200 jails in the United States; in 2002 more than 1 million people were behind their walls.

According to the Department of Justice, 95 percent of those who are in jail will be released back into the community and 80 percent will be released on parole supervision.

One in 5 prisoners are released without any community supervision.

 According to the Bureau of Prisons, there are several community and religious programs in place to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society. Some inmates are placed into halfway houses to help them adjust.

Others are given help preparing r