NAACP Supports the Literacy, Education and Rehabilitation Act
HOUSE BILL WOULD PROVIDE INCENTIVES FOR PRISONERS TO IMPROVE LITERACY AND TRAINING TO HELP WITH RE-ENTRY
There are currently more than 2 million men and women in America’s federal and state prisons today. Of those, recent studies show that more than 50% are either functionally illiterate or have marginal reading, writing and math skills. Furthermore, it is estimated that 95% of unskilled jobs in this country require a high school diploma or some work experience. But 40% of released prisoners lack a high school diploma or GED -- more than twice the rate of the general population over 18. In prisons today, only about 1/3 of inmates receive vocational training or work experience designed to improve their ability to obtain legitimate employment once released. Even fewer ex-offenders receive job counseling and placement services after release.
The Federal prison population has increased more than 7-fold over the past 20 years. In 1984, the population was about 25,000 prisoners. In 2004, there are more than 175,000 prisoners, and the population is growing. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the primary reasons for this tremendous growth has been longer sentences resulting from the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act and mandatory minimum sentences. The Sentencing Reform Act established determinate sentencing, abolished parole, and dramatically reduced good time credits.
The increase in the number of African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority Americans in prison today is startling, and is having a devastating impact on may of our communities. Two-thirds of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For African American males in their twenties, one in every eight is in prison or jail on any given day. 32% of African American males will enter state or Federal prison sometime during their lifetime.
Congressman Robert “Bobby” Scott (VA) has introduced H.R. 4283, the Literacy, Education and Rehabilitation Act (LERA). The purpose of LERA is to reduce recidivism and the victimization and the fiscal and social costs associated with such recidivism. Studies have shown that inmate participation in education, vocational and job training, prison work skills development, drug abuse, mental health and other treatment programs, all reduce recidivism, significantly. Unfortunately, the elimination of incentives such as parole, good time credits and funding for college courses, means that fewer inmates participate in and excel in literacy, education, treatment and other development programs. LERA provides incentives and recognitions for achievement by giving prison directors the discretion to grant up to 60 sentence credit days per year to an inmate for successful participation in literacy, education, work training, treatment and other development programs. LERA will not only prevent crime victimizations, but also save taxpayers money.