Representative Rob Portman
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security
Committee on the Judiciary
United States House of Representatives
Offender Reentry and H.R. 4676, the Second Chance Act of 2004:
Community Safety through Recidivism Prevention
October 7, 2004
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Scott, and Members of the Subcommittee, I am honored to testify before you today regarding offender reentry and child protection.
As you know, the numbers make a clear case for federal and state innovation on this issue. Over two million people are incarcerated in federal or state prisons, and over 97 percent of these prisoners will eventually be released and will return to our communities. And nearly 650,000 people are released from incarceration to communities nationwide each year. These numbers also make it clear that reentry affects each one of us. Reentry success or failure has implications for public safety, the welfare of children, family unification, growing fiscal issues, and community health. By doing a better job on offender reentry, we can prevent crime, prevent victimization, help restore communities and save the taxpayers money.
Unfortunately, according to recent data from the Department of Justice, two-thirds of those released from prison will be rearrested within three years. The scale of this problem makes a strong case for Congressional action.
I have been working on a bill with many colleagues to help our states and communities better address returning offenders. H.R. 4676, the Second Chance Act of 2004, is a bipartisan approach to this problem that better coordinates federal agencies and policies on prisoner reentry. The bill increases the support to states and community organizations to address the growing population of ex-offenders returning to communities. The main areas of focus within the bill are jobs, housing, substance abuse and mental health treatment, and strengthening families. I want to express my sincere thanks to Chairman Coble and Ranking Member Scott for helping to put this legislation together and cosponsoring the bill.
First and foremost, offender reentry is about preventing crime and keeping our communities safe. High rates of recidivism translate into thousands of new victims each year. The social and economic costs of a 67 percent recidivism rate nationally are astounding. The Second Chance Act would make funds available to conduct studies to determine who is returning to prison or jail and which of those prisoners represent the greatest risk to community safety. The bill would also help in the development of procedures to assist relevant authorities in determining when release is appropriate and the use of data to inform the release decision. This would include the use of proven assessment tools to assess the risk factors of returning inmates and the use of technology to advance post-release supervision.
We need to be both tough and smart on crime. Tough in keeping dangerous felons from returning and committing new crimes, but also smart in making sure that those who are coming home are given the most basic chance to start a new life and turn away from crime.
One of the reasons I became involved in this issue is the connection between drug addiction and our prison population. The link between substance abuse and the ex-offender population is important to address. 57 percent of federal and 70 percent of state inmates used drugs regularly before prison, with some estimates of involvement with drugs/alcohol around the time of the offense as high as 84% (BJS Trends in State Parole, 1990 – 2000). Without continued treatment services for ex-offenders, recidivism is likely.
The burden on our citizens and taxpayers is also a serious concern. The average cost to house a federal inmate is over $25,000 a year. The average cost on the state level in 2000 was only slightly less –$21,170 yearly. These figures do not include the cost of arrest and prosecution, nor do they take into account the cost to victims. On the other hand, a modest expenditure to help transition offenders back into the community can save taxpayers thousands of dollars. A prominent 2001 study found that, “the best [reentry] programs can be expected to deliver 20% to 30% reductions in recidivism or crime rates” and that “programs that can deliver – at a reasonable program cost – even modest reductions in future criminality can have an attractive economic bottom line.”
Beyond fiscal issues, one of the most significant costs of prisoner reentry is the impact on children, the weakened ties among family members and destabilized communities. The number of children with a parent in a federal or state correctional facility has increased over the last decade by more than 100 percent to approximately 2,000,000 children. This is one of my biggest concerns. These children are at risk for drug abuse and delinquency and need our attention. The bill would make it easier for grandparents to receive support and services while caring for their grandchildren as a result of parental incarceration. It would also provide state and local governments with resources for family-based drug treatment to treat parents and their children as a complete family unit.
Our communities and states have begun to work on reentry in innovative ways. In recent years, a number of state and local governments have begun to establish improved systems for reintegrating former prisoners. Under such systems, corrections officials begin to plan for a prisoner’s release while the prisoner is incarcerated and provide a transition to needed services in the community. Faith leaders and parishioners have a long history helping ex-offenders transform their lives. Through prison ministries and outreach in communities, churches and faith-based organizations have pioneered re-entry services to prisoners and their families. Successful reentry protects those who might otherwise be crime victims. It also improves the likelihood that individuals released from prison or juvenile detention facilities can pay fines, fees, restitution, and family support.
By addressing the most basic needs of ex-offenders coming home, we can reduce their chances of re-offending and improve their success as productive, contributing citizens.
President Bush made a case for the need to address our reentering population in his state of the union address. He put this issue in perspective, “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.” During his address, he announced his Re-Entry Initiative, with a strong focus on job training, transitional housing, and prisoner mentoring from faith-based groups. This is an important aspect of our federal response to reentry. Our bill would authorize a small component of this plan and complements the President’s larger reentry initiative. Together they mean a comprehensive plan to drastically change how we serve these men and women and keep our communities safe.
I thank you for inviting me here today to testify before the Committee. It will be my pleasure to answer any questions you may have at the appropriate time.