The Second Chance Act
A few years ago, I had an opportunity to tour the Folsom prison located just outside of Sacramento, California, during which we were allowed to interact with prisoners and had access to almost all corners of the prison. At one point we witnessed a fight between several inmates in the courtyard. We were immediately pushed against the wall and remained there until the prisoners were apprehended. As we made our way through the courtyard, carefully navigating our path between the prisoners lying on the ground, the surreal nature of the life in prison suddenly began to come into focus. Although my two hour experience is hardly enough to grasp the struggles of the individuals who must adapt to the inconceivable lives while incarcerated, it certainly raised the question of how the society can realistically expect from these individuals to transition back to the “real world” on their own and under the expectation that they will immediately become law abiding and productive members of the society.
With the highest number of incarcerations in the world, each year in the United States approximately 650,000 people are released from prisons. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, within 3 years, approximately 50 percent of those released will find themselves in legal trouble once again. Traditionally, very little has been done by the nation’s correctional departments to successfully aid ex-convicts to transition back to life outside of the prison, although studies repeatedly demonstrate the value of such programs in decreasing the rate of recidivism.
In 2008, the federal government finally made an important step forward by passing the Second Chance Act which authorizes “federal grants to government agencies and community and faith-based organizations to provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victims support, and other services that can help reduce re-offending and violations of probation and parole” (A Council of State Governments Justice Project). This legislation has been recognized as one of the best policies of 2008 by the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy.
However, while the Second Chance Act is a step in the right direction, many nonprofit organizations offering transition programs remain dependent on donations. With so many important causes in need of funding, some may feel indifferent about donating money to causes associated with ex-convicts; however, it is important to remember that the reentry of former prisoners into the society is a matter of public safety and their success ultimately strengthens the fabric of our community as a whole.