A $300 million initiative announced last night by President George W. Bush to help released inmates return to society could significantly expand a prisoner re-entry program begun in the Clinton administration. Under the Bush plan, $75 million per year for four years could be allotted to efforts that aid former prisoners. Much of the money would go to faith-based projects. Congress could expand the program, but that might be infeasible under limits on federal discretionary spending.
An existing $100 million allocation has been divided among the states, providing each state with a modest $2 million. (See http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/reentry for more information about the current program.)
The announcement, the last policy item mentioned by Bush in his State of the Union address, was hailed by Pat Nolan of the Virginia-based Justice Fellowship, a Christian organization that deals with corrections issues, as “the first time in my memory that a president has spoken of offenders as people we should care about.”
Noting that more than 600,000 inmates are released each year, Bush said, “We know from long experience that if they can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit more crimes and return to prison.” The president added, “America is the land of the second chance – and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”
Nolan’s Justice Fellowship and other groups have been working to promote expanded federal support for prisoner re-entry. A Reentry Policy Council of the Council of State Governments and the National Governors Association is preparing a report to state and local governments on effective steps they can take to help prisoners return safely and successfully. Nolan said, “Our experience is that the vast majority of prison volunteers and mentors come from local churches.”
The Bush announcement also was praised by Mary Shilton of Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities (TASC), who said that “the president finally has recognized the need to bring together programs that address offender re-entry issues and families, including the need for long-term support and aftercare.” She said that churches were a logical choice to deliver many services.
Much recent research on prisoner re-entry has been conducted by the Washington-based Urban Institute. Studies on the experience in Illinois Maryland, New Jersey, and Ohio, can be found on the institute’s Web site, http://www.urban.org/content/PolicyCenters/Justice/Projects/PrisonerReentry/overview.htm