The Second Chance Act was designed by Congress to be a solid piece of bipartisan legislation. This legislation was to help protect the rights of ex-convicts, provide education and reentry programs which in turn would help to lower the recidivism rate. A major aspect of the Second Chance Act was designed to improve federal prison offender reentry. It's a good idea, but the federal government and the Bureau of Prisons must follow through— they haven’t. Money was to be set forth for new programs to assess each federal prisoner’s skill level including academic, vocational, health, cognitive, interpersonal, daily living, and related reentry skills. Ask any federal inmate if any of these programs are up and running. The answer is no. The federal government recently spent billions and billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out the banks, auto manufacturers, investment firms, and Wall Street companies in a matter of weeks if not days. These individuals are not even in federal prison for their mismanagement and crimes. Yet eleven months have passed and little if anything provided in the Second Chance Act has been implemented.
Another significant aspect of the Second Chance Act was to allow federal prison inmates up to one year in a halfway house to better enable them to adjust and acclimate to their reentry into the real world. Currently, federal prison inmates are only permitted 10% of their net sentence or six months of halfway house time, whichever is less. So with the passage of the Second Chance Act, I would presume that federal prison inmates are now receiving up to 12 months of halfway house time. Wrong!! Nothing has changed. As a matter of fact, at a Sentencing Commission hearing in Washington, D.C. on July 15, 2008, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, Harley Lapin, stated he anticipated no changes to the provision of a full year of halfway house for federal inmates. He stated that “certain studies” showed that it was not productive and it is actually less expensive to house federal inmates in a federal prison than in a halfway house. Personally, I thought the Second Chance Act was about improving federal prison inmates’ reentry into society, not about the cost of incarceration. Sorry, Harley!
Another major provision in the Second Chance Act was to allow early release to eligible offenders over the age of 65 who have already served a total of at least 10 years or 75% of their prison sentence, whichever is greater. An eligible offender is defined as an inmate who is not a lifer, has not committed a crime of violence or a sex offense, does not have a history of violence, has not escaped or attempted escape, and an inmate that the Federal Government has determined that early release will result in a substantial net reduction of costs to the Federal Government. If you read between the lines, those inmates eligible for early release are those federal prison inmates who are elderly, in bad health, chronically or acutely ill, and are piling up huge medical bills for the Bureau of Prisons. So the Federal Government's answer— release them to the streets! In actuality, the total number of eligible offenders is estimated to be only 650 federal prison inmates. This is only 0.32% (one-third of one percent) of the 201,000 inmates currently incarcerated in federal prisons. That's a solution?
The United States has the world's largest prison population. Ex-felons are currently stripped of civil rights, denied access to loans, college financial aid, job prospects, certain licenses, and other conduits for social improvement that most of us take for granted. The three-year recidivism rate is nearly 66% and the BOP is dragging its feet on the implementation of the Second Chance Act. An ex-convict’s crimes haunt him forever. Felonies committed at age 20 or 21 will follow him into his sixties. White-collar criminals are receiving longer sentences and are being prosecuted more vigorously, which they should be. But leaving the system like it is, without the implementation of the Second Chance Act, robs a released inmate of his civil rights including the right to legally provide for his family. He has paid his dues, served his time, and given his “pound of flesh”. Isn’t it time he had a second chance?
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