Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn has killed prospects in the Congress adjourning this week to pass the proposed Second Chance Act, which would have authorized federal aid for programs helping prisoners re-enter society. The measure was named for a line in President Bush’s 2004 State of the Union address, in which he suggested 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. Said the President: “America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”
Senators Arlen Specter (R-Pa), Joe Biden (D-De) and Sam Brownback (R-Ks) tried to fast track the bill for passage this week. Tom Coburn, a Republican, blocked the effort by putting a hold on the bill. One insider said that key staff member redrafted some of the language to reach a compromise with Coburn, but all efforts at negotiations failed. Coburn was quoted as objecting bill on the ground that there should be no federal role in prisoner re-entry and that states – including Oklahoma – have the resources to reduce recidivism and improve re-entry without federal support. Coburn reportedly was the only senator requesting a hold on the bill. Sponsors plan to reintroduce it in the next Congress.