The long-pending Second Chance Act, which authorizes federal aid for prisoner re-entry programs, passed Congress last night after Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) dropped a “hold” on the bill. The Senate approved the House version of the bill by unanimous consent, meaning that it will go directly to President Bush for signature. Bush started the movement for the law in his 2004 State of the Union address, when he said, “America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.” Bush proposed a “four-year, $300 million prisoner re-entry initiative to expand job training and placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based groups.” As it turned out, the bill took more than four years to pass as a succession of senators held it up.
“The passage of the Second Chance Act reflects the strong consensus that improving prisoner reentry is not a partisan issue, but a matter of public safety, improving lives, and making effective use of taxpayer dollars,” said Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, board member of the Council of State Governments Justice Center and chair of the New York State Assembly Correction Committee. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 95 percent of state prisoners will be released, with half of them expected to return to prison within three years for committing a new crime or violating conditions of release. Congressional Quarterly said the bill authorizes $362 million over two fiscal years; it was not immediately clear how much actually might be appropriated with Congress under pressure to spend large sums on the Iraq war.