This article is a good demonstration of how government policy can negatively impact on society and that in time even the hard core advocates can change their minds.

The Second Chance Act may provide resources for re-entry housing. Information on the bill can be found by clicking here.

The New York Times, December 24, 2006

The Right Has a Jailhouse Conversion


Not too long ago, you could tell whether an election was under way by watching prime-time television and counting the number of ominous recitatives about prisoners and ex-prisoners in the commercials. This fall, however, the seven million Americans who are in the custody of the state — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — did not loom large on nightly TV; in fact, as has been the case for nearly a decade, they barely received any notice at all. Prisoners are no longer the charged political symbols and campaign-season scapegoats they once were.

This decline in the exploitation of crime coincides with an odd and surprising change in the politics of crime. The G.O.P., the party of Richard Nixon’s 1968 law-and-order campaign and the Willie Horton commercial, is beginning to embrace the idea that prisoners have not only souls that need saving but also flesh that needs caring for in this world. Increasingly, Republicans are talking about helping ex-prisoners find housing, drug treatment, mental-health counseling, job training and education. They’re also reconsidering some of the more punitive sentencing laws for drug possession. The members of this nascent movement include a number of politicians not previously known for their attention to prisoners’ rights. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a former federal prosecutor whom The New Republic once accused of being stained ”with the taint of racism,” wants to reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of crack. Referring to mandatory-minimum sentences, Representative Bob Inglis of South Carolina, whose district is home to Bob Jones University, declared on the floor of the House: ”I voted for them in the past. I will not do it again.” Perhaps most remarkably, the outgoing Republican-controlled Congress came tantalizingly close to passing the Second Chance Act, a bill that focuses not on how to ”lock them up” but on how to let them out. The bill may become law soon, if Democrats continue to welcome the new conservative interest in rehabilitation.

By some measures, the Second Chance Act is a small bill. It authorizes less than $100 million over two years to address a significant problem: about 700,000 ex-offenders (the population of a good-size American city) will leave prison in 2007 — and two-thirds of them are likely to be rearrested within three years. The bill would provide states with grants to develop model programs for prisoners returning to society. Those states that accept the grants will be asked to re-examine any laws and regulations that make it unreasonably difficult for ex-offenders to reintegrate themselves into their communities — the classic example is the ban on allowing felons to receive a barber’s license. (If the felon in question is Sweeney Todd, of course, the ban might make sense. But a blanket prohibition that includes check bouncers and marijuana users seems overly broad.) The bill also provides money to faith-based organizations and other nonprofits for prisoner-mentoring programs. Finally, it requires states to measure how well their programs achieve the bill’s main goal: reducing the rate of recidivism among recently released prisoners.

To read the full article click here.