There are a record number of people behind bars today and about 95 percent of them will one day be released. Over half of those former inmates will end up back in jail or prison, however, repeating a cycle that causes more crime, more broken families, and millions of dollars in higher costs to all of us taxpayers. This revolving door in the criminal justice system highlights our failures when it comes to rehabilitation.
To address this problem, I wrote legislation called the Second Chance Act which takes a small part of the money we spend on prosecuting and incarcerating people and puts it towards supporting state and local re-entry programs. It focuses on job training, mental health counseling, and drug addiction services for former inmates to get them back into productive lives.
The Second Chance Act has awarded competitive grants to government agencies and nonprofit groups across 49 states for reentry programs to serve both adults and juveniles. About 100,000 people have participated in Second Chance programs and Ohio has used it aggressively to reduce recidivism. From 2013 to 2014 the recidivism rate in Ohio dropped from 28.7 percent to 27.1 percent, continuing progress that has made our state recidivism rate the lowest in 24 years, and well below the national average of 49.7 percent. Numbers and statistics don’t always tell the full story, however. As someone who has been deeply involved in this area, I have seen the impact these programs have had on real Ohioans.
Back home I recently met a man who first went to prison when he was only 16 years old. Alvis House, a recipient of Second Chance grants that helps with re-entry programs, helped him develop necessary skills that allowed him to become a welder and hold a steady job. Now, he has custody of his son for the first time in his life and he is focused on working hard and being good father. He was given a second chance and he embraced it. Instead of being a burden on taxpayers, he is working and paying taxes. Allowing people to reach their God-given potential is exactly what my legislation is all about. I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish so far, but there is more to do.
Like many other laws, the Second Chance Act sunsets and has to be reviewed and reauthorized. Because of the positive results it has produced, I proudly introduced S.1513, the Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2015, this month. The new legislation builds on the progress already made and makes the legislation more efficient and effective. For instance, it expands grants for programs promoting family-based substance abuse treatment and other career training that have been proven to work, and it addresses the cost of the elderly prison population by expanding an aging offender pilot that allows qualifying non-violent offenders to serve the remainder of their time outside of federal facilities. Finally, it increases accountability through periodic audits to make sure federal dollars are responsibly spent.
Let’s continue the progress we’ve made in stopping the revolving door in the criminal justice system and give more Americans the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Let’s pass this new law to give more Americans the second chance they deserve.
Rob Portman is a U.S. senator from Ohio.