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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

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Date:
Location: Washington DC

CONGRESSIONAL RECORD
SENATE
Oct. 7, 2004

STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

By Mr. BIDEN (for himself, Mr. SPECTER, Mr. BINGAMAN, and Ms. LANDRIEU):

S. 2923. A bill to reauthorize the grant program of the Department of Justice for reentry of offenders into the community, to establish a task force on Federal programs and activities relating to the reentry of offenders into the community, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, Senator SPECTER and I introduce today the Enhanced Second Chance Act of 2004, which takes direct aim at reducing recidivism rates for our Nation's ex-offenders and improving the transition for these offenders from prison back into the community.

All too often we think about today, but not tomorrow. We look to short-term solutions for long- term problems. We need to have a change in thinking and approach. It's time we face the dire situation of prisoners reentering our communities with insufficient monitoring, little or no job skills, inadequate drug treatment, insufficient housing, lack of positive influences, a paucity of basic physical and mental health services, and deficient basic life skills.

The bill we introduce today is about providing a second chance for these ex-offenders, and the children and families that depend on them. It's about strengthening communities and ensuring safe neighborhoods.

Since my 1994 Crime Bill passed, we've had great success in cutting down on crime rates in this country. Under the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, we've funded over 114,000 officers all across the country. And our crime rate has plummeted. Murder is down 37.8 percent, rape 19.1 percent, and aggravated assaults 28 percent. The overall crime rate sharply declined by 28 percent.

But now, we are seeing some troubling indicators that crime is back on the rise. Murder was up 2.5 percent in 2001, 1 percent in 2002, and 1.3 percent in 2003. Forcible rape is up as is robbery. Car theft is up 10 percent over the last four years.

If we are going to ensure that these latest numbers are only a blip on the continued downward trend of crime rates, as opposed to the beginning of a comeback in crime, we simply have to make strong, concerted, and common-sense efforts now to help ex-prisoners successfully reenter and reintegrate into their communities.

There's a record number of people currently serving time in our country-over two million. This translates into 1 out of every 143 U.S. residents. In its latest statistics on the matter, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that the Nation's overall prison population increased by over 40,000 from midyear 2002 to midyear 2003, the largest increase in 4 years.

Also vital to realize is that 95 percent of all these millions we lock up will eventually get out. That equals nearly 650,000 being released from Federal or State prisons to communities each year. In a State like Delaware, that's over 4,000 inmates per year. And here's the kicker-a staggering 2/3 of these released state prisoners are expected to be rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years of release. Two out of every three! You're talking about hundreds of thousands of reoffending ex-offenders each year and hundreds of thousands of serious crimes being committed by people who have already served time in jail.

And, unfortunately, it's not too difficult to see why such a huge portion of our released prisoners recommit serious crimes. Up to 60 percent of former inmates are not employed; 15 to 27 percent of prisoners expect to go to homeless shelters upon release; and 57 percent of Federal and 70 percent of State inmates used drugs regularly before prison, with some estimates of involvement with drugs or alcohol around the time of the offense as high as 84 percent.

These huge numbers of released prisoners each year and the out-of-control recidivism rates are a recipe for disaster-leading to untold damage, hardship, and death for victims; ruined futures and lost potential for re-offenders; and a huge drain on society at large. One particularly vulnerable group is the children of these offenders. We simply cannot be resigned to allowing generation after generation entering and reentering our prisons. This pernicious cycle must come to an end.

My 1994 Crime Bill recognized these extraordinarily high rates of recidivism as a real problem. My bill, for example, created innovative drug treatment programs for State and Federal inmates to help them kick their habit.

But this is only one piece of the puzzle. I introduced a bill in 2000 that would have built on my 1994 Crime Bill-the "Offender Reentry and Community Safety Act of 2000", S. 2908. This bill would have created demonstration reentry programs for Federal, State, and local prisoners. These programs were designed to assist high-risk, high-need offenders who served their prison sentences, but who pose the greatest risk of reoffending upon release because they lack the education, job skills, stable family or living arrangements, and the health services they need to successfully reintegrate into society.

Senator SPECTER has also been a dedicated and tireless leader on crime and public safety issues throughout his career and has, for many years, seen the serious public safety ramifications of high recidivism rates. For example, my colleague from Pennsylvania has been the leader on the effort to ensure that offenders who are being released back into our communities have adequate education and work training to become productive members of our society. I couldn't be more pleased than to join efforts with Senator SPECTER on the Enhanced Second Chance Act of 2004.

While we have made some progress on offender reentry efforts since 1994, much more needs to be done. In the current session of Congress, I am pleased that colleagues of mine-from both sides of Capitol Hill and from both sides of the aisle-are also focusing their attention on this vital issue.

I am proud to have worked with Representatives ROB PORTMAN, DANNY DAVIS, and JOHN CONYERS, just to name a few, in the House or Representatives. In the Senate, a number of my colleagues, in addition to Senator SPECTER, have shown strong interest in offender reentry issues, including Senators BROWNBACK, DEWINE, LEAHY, KENNEDY, LANDRIEU, BINGAMAN, HATCH, GRASSLEY, and SANTORUM.

The Second Chance Act of 2004 was introduced in the House and Senate recently, and I was proud to have worked extensively on that bipartisan, bicameral process. The bill Senator SPECTER and I introduce today builds on those efforts. Like the Second Chance Act, the central component of our bill provides a competitive grant program to promote innovative programs to test out a variety of methods aimed at reducing recidivism rates. Efforts would be focused on post-release housing, education and job training, substance abuse and mental health services, and mentoring programs, just to name a few.

Because the scope of the problem is so large-with 650,000 prisoners being released from state and federal prisons each year-our bill provides more than three times as much funding than the House bill. While the House bill contains $40 million per year for the main grant program, our bill provides $130 million. This isn't being wasteful with our scarce federal resources, it's just an acknowledgment of the scope of the problem we're faced with.

A relatively modest investment in offender reentry efforts compares very well with the alternative, building more and more prisons for these ex-offenders to return to if they are unable to successfully reenter their communities and instead are rearrested and reconvicted of more crimes. We must remember that the average cost of incarcerating each prisoner exceeds $20,000 per year. In Delaware, this translates into over $200 per resident just to pay for jail and prison operating expenses.

In constant 2001 dollars, state prison costs in our country have increased from $11.7 billion per year in 1986 to $29.5 billion in 2001. And even with these kinds of resources being spent, by the end of 2002, 25 States and the Federal prison system reported operating at 100 percent or more of their highest capacity. My own home State of Delaware continues to see a prison system bulging at the seams. We have tried, but simply cannot build our way out of this problem. We need tough-but smart-strategies to stop the revolving door of prisoners being released from prison, only to re-offend and land right back behind bars. We simply can't be penny-wise but pound-foolish.

The Enhanced Second Chance Act of 2004 also requires that Federal departments with a role in offender reentry efforts coordinate and work together; to make sure there aren't duplicative efforts or funding gaps; and to coordinate reentry research. Our bill would raise the profile of this issue within the executive branch and secure the sustained and coordinated federal attention offender reentry efforts deserve.

We also need to examine existing Federal and state reentry barriers-laws, regulations, rules, and practices that make it more difficult for former inmates to successfully reintegrate back into their communities; laws that confine ex-offenders to society's margins, making it even more likely that they will recommit serious crimes and return to prison.

Turning over a new leaf and going from a life of crime to becoming a productive member of society is tough enough. We shouldn't have Federal and State laws on the books that make this even more challenging. That's not to say that we don't want to restrict former drug addicts from working in pharmacies, for example, or to bar sex offenders from working in day care centers. But many communities across the country currently exclude ex-prisoners from virtually every occupation requiring a state license, like chiropractic care, engineering, and real estate. Lifting these senselessly punitive bans would make it easier for ex-offenders to stay out of prison.

Our bill provides for a robust analysis of these Federal and State barriers with recommendations on what next steps we need to take. And these reviews are mandated to take place out in the open under public scrutiny.

The Enhanced Second Chance Act also spurs state-of-the-art research and study on offender reentry issues. We need to know who is most likely to recommit crimes when they are released, to better target our limited resources where they can do the most good. We need to study why some ex-offenders who seem to have the entire deck stacked against them are able to become successful and productive members of our society. We need to know what works and how we can replicate what works for others.

Our bill also provides a whole slew of common-sense proposals in the areas of job training, employment, education, post-release housing, civic rights, substance abuse, and prisoner mentoring-efforts and changes in law that we can do now. Some of these important provisions are included in the House bill, others are in addition to those efforts, but all are common-sense efforts in the art of the possible. Our goal is to do as much as possible right now.

Our Enhanced Second Chance Act is a next, natural step in our campaign against crime. Making a dent in recidivism rates is an enormous undertaking; one that requires action now and continued focus in the future. I commit to vigorously pushing this legislation as well as keeping an eye on what steps we need to take in the future. We need to realize that the problems facing ex-offenders are enormous and require sustained focus. The safety of our neighbors, our children, and our communities depends on it.

I'm proud today to introduce the Enhanced Second Chance Act with Senator SPECTER and ask our colleagues to join with us in this vital effort.

I ask unanimous consent to have the text of our bill printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

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