During the recent American Correctional Association meeting in Tampa, Fla., I did not attend but heard that an often asked question was, "Why has it taken more than three years to get the Second Chance Act (comprehensive federal re-entry legislation) passed in Congress, especially after a major boost from President George W. Bush in his 2004 State of the Union Address?"
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The Second Chance Act will provide federal grants to states to work with other state agencies and primarily with elected leaders and providers to develop comprehensive offender re-entry programming. Chief goals are reducing crime by reducing recidivism and rehabilitating substantially more of the 650,000 offenders now exiting state and federal prisons, jails and juvenile institutions each year. More than 90 percent of these individuals are being released from state and local facilities.
In Juneau, this would be welcomed, as Justice Patricia Collins and others work to create a local community offender re-entry steering committee to deal with the myriad of issues facing individuals upon release: family treatment and case management support, education, employment, safe and sober places to reside and the community prevention initiative promoted by Alaska's Chief Justice Dana Fabe.
More than 66 percent of offenders are parents, and their children are six times more likely to get involved in that system. In addition, the communicable disease rate in America's jails and prisons for HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis is in many places 20 times the community norm. Prevention, I would hope so.
The Second Chance Act originated in the 108th Congress under the leadership of Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. I worked with them on this legislation as a member of the International Community Corrections Association board of directors. The bill attracted strong support from Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., who was the chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, and its ranking member Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, has not signed on. Why?
A coalition of state, local and national agencies interested in criminal justice reform, juvenile justice, crime prevention and conditions of confinement have labored tirelessly to provide information and advocacy on Capitol Hill. In our state, Gastineau Human Services Corp. has presented a public information campaign that will receive the 2007 American Probation and Parole Association's National Community Awareness Through the Media Award.
I want to give thanks to our community partners - GCI Cable, the Juneau Empire, White Oak Broadcasting, Skunk Cabbage Designs, Alaska-Pod, YouTube, Rotary International, the United Way and Alaska Grafix - and a special thanks to Tyler Gress and Jeremy Hansen, of Hansen/Gress Inc., for their tireless support in this effort, as well as to my board of directors and the employees of Gastineau Human Services, who I am blessed to have in my life.
President Bush has repeatedly said he would sign the bills that were crafted along the lines of the bicameral joint-text that was agreed upon last year. The Senate remains the more difficult body for final passage, and neither Sen. Lisa Murkowski nor Sen. Ted Stevens has signed on to the bipartisan legislation. Why?
The Second Chance Act is empirically based and will produce major savings on prison construction, operations, maintenance and in rehabilitating lives and families - making taxpayers out of tax consumers.
It has been said the democracy, like justice, grinds slowly but exceedingly fine. After more than three years of hard work, there is widespread conviction that the 2007 act is a good bill, and there is a lot of hope that by year's end, the time for final passage will come.
Please let our congressional delegation know how you feel, and visit the Gastineau Human Services Web site at www.ghscorp.org for more information and local, regional, national and international community justice links.
Greg Pease is the executive director of Gastineau Human Services and was recently elected to the American Probation and Parole Association board of directors to represent Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.