MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Columns

December 4, 2006

Second Chance Act supporters want senator’s support

On occasion, the U.S. Congress works together in a bipartisan manner to find practical solutions to a vexing problem. This week, Congress will decide whether to pass the Second Chance Act, a bill that fits that description perfectly.

The problem addressed by the Second Chance Act is vexing indeed: people returning from prisons and jails to our communities, without adequate preparation. Each year more than 600,000 Americans are released from prisons, having paid their debt to society for their crimes. Many times that number are released from local jails.

People re-entering society from jail or prison can become productive citizens, if they are prepared with a place to live, a job, treatment for addiction, and a simple mentoring program often undertaken by a local church. Unfortunately, without this preparation, many are unable to make the transition (often becoming homeless in the process), and they commit new crimes and return to prison. Every failed re-entry means more crime, victims, and waste of lives and taxpayer dollars.

The Second Chance Act would make a big difference. The idea was born almost three years ago, after President Bush called for more attention to this problem. The proposed act recognizes that the federal government has spent billions of dollars to help states build prisons and send people there who have committed crimes. It would help states finish the job by preparing people who have served their time to re-enter their communities.

The bill would provide:

• Grants to state corrections agencies (particularly helpful for states like Oklahoma whose low tax base means that funding these initiatives without federal participation squeezes local and state taxpayers).

• Better know-how through research and assistance.

• Grants to local faith-based and community organizations for effective mentoring programs.

There is no other source of federal funding that combines the flexibility and focus on solutions to this problem that the Second Chance Act would provide.

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