Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Re-Entry Front and Center

I can't tell you how happy this story makes me.

U.S. Shifting Prison Focus to Re-Entry Into Society:

Today, as a legacy of those [get tough] policies, not only are record numbers incarcerated, but also about 700,000 state and federal prisoners are released annually, many of them with little education or employment prospects and destined to be imprisoned again within a few years.

In a sharp change in attitudes about incarceration, many states and private groups have recently experimented with “re-entry” programs to help released prisoners fit back into their communities and avoid new crime.

The strategy will get a major boost this week. President Bush is to sign the Second Chance Act in a public ceremony on Wednesday, making rehabilitation a central goal of the federal justice system. In a sign of how far the pendulum has swung, the measure passed Congress with nearly unanimous bipartisan support.

The act authorizes $165 million in spending per year, including matching grants to state and local governments and nongovernmental groups to experiment with efforts like more schooling and drug treatment inside prison and aid with housing, employment and the building of family and community ties after release.

It also directs the Justice Department to step up research on re-entry issues and establishes a national Reentry Resource Center to promote successful approaches and provide training.

The skeptic in me, of course, wonders if the funding will continue for the Second Chance Act after this initial fiscal year, and whether more will be done on the carceral side to ensure better training and education (including improving access to higher education) before inmates actually leave.

But overall, as the article points out, it's a long way from the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" myopia of the 90's. And the fact that this passed in an election year, when we usually drag out the more draconian pieces of crime legislation, is even more heartening.

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