Back to RJ Archive

The Second Chance Act and the future of reentry reform.

O'Hear, Michael M.
June 4, 2015

Source: (-0001) Federal Sentencing Reporter. 20(2): 75-83.

Mass incarceration in the 1980s and 1990s has spawned a prisoner reentry crisis in this decade. Although reentry has
only recently gained currency as a national political issue, the problems associated with reentry were an utterly predictable
consequence of a long-term trend toward increased reliance on imprisonment as a response to crime. Even at the
height of the incarceration boom, only a tiny fraction of offenders were sentenced to death or life imprisonment, and the
average prison term has remained below three years. Thus, nearly everyone we send away to prison eventually
comes back. They return, for the most part, to a small number of low-income, urban communities that are already struggling
with a host of profound social problems. They return, after the defunding of prison-based educational and
therapeutic programs, with the same underlying deficits that contributed to their criminal behavior in the first place.
Indeed, they are apt to return with those deficits widened as a result of their time in prison and the stigma of a criminal
record. And they return in ever-swelling numbers, with an eightfold increase in the annual number of returning inmates
since 1970 to more than 600,000 now. The few communities that attract the bulk of these returnees will almost
inevitably experience increased crime, homelessness, substance abuse, and demands on social service agencies that are
already spread thin. As the magnitude of the problem has become clearer, the political system has begun to respond. In his 2004 State of
the Union Address, President Bush proposed a $ 300 million prisoner reentry initiative. “We know from long experience
that if [inmates] can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit crime and return to
prison,” he observed. “America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of prison open, the path ahead
should lead to a better life.” Heeding this call, the House of Representatives recently passed the Second Chance Act
(SCA), and counterpart legislation in the Senate has already cleared that body’s Judiciary Committee. The SCA would
build on the Department of Justice’s Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI), a $ 130 million grant
program that ran from 2003 to 2005, as well as a host of other initiatives that have been undertaken by federal, state, and
local agencies across the country. (Excerpt)


Support the cause

We've Been Restoring Justice for More Than 40 Years

Your donation helps Prison Fellowship International repair the harm caused by crime by emphasizing accountability, forgiveness, and making amends for prisoners and those affected by their actions. When victims, offenders, and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results are transformational.

Donate Now