With state prison costs driven mainly by recidivism, the federal government must do all it can to support programs like the Second Chance Act, which guides newly released prisoners to drug treatment, mental health care, housing and jobs to keep them from going right back to jail. The House, which supports continued funding, must hold fast against a Senate appropriations bill that would zero out this important program.
Of about 700,000 people released from prisons this year, more than two-thirds will be re-arrested and more than half returned to prison within three years. Even modest reductions in recidivism could yield huge savings. For example, a study released earlier this year by the Pew Charitable Trusts estimated that Texas could save $33.6 million, New York $42 million and California $233 million in the first year alone if they cut recidivism by even 10 percent. The Second Chance Act, signed into law by George W. Bush in 2008, supports re-entry services for newly released prisoners, who typically land on the street without money, skills or a place to live. The program was initially authorized at $165 million. But Congress funded it at only $25 million for fiscal 2009, $100 million for 2010 and $83 million this year. Even so, a recent analysis by the Council of State Governments Justice Center shows promising re-entry projects financed by this law springing up all over the country. In San Mateo, Calif., for example, a program that has provided offenders with drug treatment, life skills and employment training since 2009 has managed to keep three-quarters of them from going back to jail.
Representative Frank Wolf, Republican of Virginia, has promised to fight in the conference committee for the House bill that would invest $70 million into the Second Chance Act. The Senate, by contrast, has set aside no money for the program while earmarking more than $300 million in new aid for federal prisons. The Senate has its priorities backward.