NAACP-Supported Comprehensive Ex-Offender Reentry Legislation is Passed by the US House of Representatives


The Issue:
On November 13, 2007, by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 347 yeas to 62 nays, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 1593, the “Second Chance Act of 2007”.  This bill is intended to help the more than 650,000 men and women who are released from prison each year re-enter society.  Ex-prisoner re-entry has a disparate effect on communities of color, since two-thirds of the people currently in prison are racial and ethnic minorities.  For African American males in their twenties, one in every eight is in prison or jail on any given day.  These numbers are expected to grow, as more men and women are incarcerated each year.

For most ex-offenders, the transition back into their communities is difficult:  many lack the necessary skills to successfully re-enter society.  Studies have shown that many of those released from prison come back into society with a substance abuse addiction or mental health problem.  Employment and housing are often difficult; one study found that applicants with criminal records experienced a 50% reduction in job offers for entry level jobs, compared to those without records.  This is compounded by racial bias as African American former inmates experienced a 64% reduction in offers.  As many as a quarter of all ex-offenders go to homeless shelters upon release.  Furthermore, many communities where prisoners go upon release already struggle with high poverty, unemployment, fragile families and a dearth of jobs.  It should be no surprise, then, that over two-thirds of released prisoners are re-arrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within three years and one-half of those re-arrested are convicted and re-incarcerated.  Not only does this recidivism cause tremendous problems for our communities, but it also places a huge burden on American taxpayers.  The average cost of incarcerating each prisoner exceeds $22,600 per year; expenditures on corrections alone have increased from $9 billion in 1982 to $60 billion in 2002 and it continues to skyrocket out of control.

The “Second Chance Act of 2007”, which was introduced and has been championed by Congressman Danny Davis (IL) would provide state and local communities with federal assistance to establish ex-offender reentry projects, with enhanced focus on job training, housing, substance abuse and mental health treatment, as well as programs to work with the children and families of ex-offenders.  In short, the Second Chance Act would encourage new community partnerships to help educate, train and employ those recently released who might otherwise return to a life of crime.

Companion legislation, S. 1060, introduced by Senator Joe Biden (DE), must now be considered by the U.S. Senate.  It has already been approved of by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and so we must put pressure on the full Senate to consider and pass this vital legislation.