By The Council of State Governments Justice Center Staff
President Trump signed into law bipartisan legislation today to reform the federal prison system. The First Step Act, which passed the U.S. Senate 87-12 and the House 358-36, will usher in significant changes to federal sentencing laws as well as improvements to programs that aim to reduce recidivism and provide support to people who are involved in the criminal justice system.
The First Step Act also reauthorizes the Second Chance Act, building on and strengthening the landmark legislation originally passed 10 years ago. The Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2018—sponsored by U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT)—provides $100 million per year to establish and enhance state and local programs that promote successful reentry for people returning to the community after incarceration.
Since 2009, the Second Chance Act has provided more than 900 grants to programs across 49 states, impacting more than 164,000 people. To learn more about SCA grantees and their impact, see Reentry Matters: Second Chance Act 10th Anniversary Edition.
Here are five things to know about the reauthorization of the Second Chance Act:
- Second Chance Act reauthorization strengthens support for comprehensive reentry programming to address the myriad needs of people who have been in the criminal justice system.
People returning to their communities from prison or jail have complex challenges and needs that can contribute to the likelihood that they may reoffend. Successful reentry programming not only addresses criminal thinking and behaviors, but also provides wraparound services to attend to these needs and helps people reintegrate into the community. The reauthorization expands several existing grant programs to include support for a variety of services, such as housing, treatment for substance addictions, and childcare. It also expands the types of career training that can be offered and gives priority to programs that track employment outcomes and ensure participants connect with employers.
- Second Chance Act reauthorization expands efforts to reduce substance addiction among people involved in the justice system.
At a time when jurisdictions across the country are confronted with a growing number of people with behavioral health needs in prisons and jails, correctional and reentry programs can provide important services and supports to address these needs and prevent future contact with the criminal justice system. Second Chance Act reauthorization increases support for state and local reentry programs that target people with mental illnesses and substance addictions. The bill also establishes priority consideration for nonprofit organizations that have formed partnerships with state and local agencies to develop programs that treat substance addiction in the reentry population, as well as grants to residential substance addiction programs and family supportive services in correctional facilities.
- Second Chance Act reauthorization puts lessons learned about prison education into practice.
Whereas the SCA of 2008 focused largely on supporting research to identify best practices in correctional education programming, the reauthorization act moves to put that research into practice. Funding will be dedicated to examining and implementing the educational approaches proven to work best for people in prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities.
- Second Chance Act reauthorization expands eligibility for certain grant programs to provide critical reentry services.
To ensure people involved in the criminal justice system are connected to the appropriate reentry services, the act expands the types of entities that can receive funding to administer certain programming. Under the reauthorization act, nonprofit organizations are now eligible to receive SCA funding to provide career training and substance addiction services. The act also introduces a new program, the Partnerships to Expand Access to Reentry Programs Proven to Reduce Recidivism, which will allow certain faith- and community-based nonprofits to work with local and federal prisons to provide reentry programming that has proven to reduce recidivism.
- Second Chance Act reauthorization puts new accountability measures in place, making sure tax dollars are spent responsibly.
SCA reauthorization makes several efforts to improve accountability and impact in programs receiving federal funds. In addition to requiring regular review of grant recipients, SCA reauthorization also gives priority to applicants who work with an evaluator to ensure recidivism-reduction goals are practical.