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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, Senator SPECTER, Senator BROWNBACK, and I introduce today the Second Chance Act of 2005, 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 nor no job skills, inadequate drug treatment, insufficient housing, lack of positive influences, a pap city 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 100,000 officers all across the country. And our crime rate has plummeted.

But there's a record number of people currently serving time in our country--over 2 million in our federal and state prisons; with millions more in local jails. And 95 percent of all prisoners we lock up today will eventually get out. That equals nearly 650,000 being released from federal or state prisons to communities each year.

If we are going to continue the downward trend of crime rates, we simply have to make strong, concerted, and common-sense efforts now to help ex-prisoners successfully reenter and reintegrate to their communities.

And right now, we're not doing a good enough job. A staggering two-thirds of 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 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; 15-27 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 estim1tes of involvement with drugs or alcohol around the time of the offense as high as 84 percent.

These huge numbers or released prisoners each year and the out-of-control recidivism rates are a recipe for diaster--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 posed the greatest risk of reoffending upon release because they lacked the education, job skills, stable family or living arrangements, and the health services they needed to successfully reintegrate into society.

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 and this vital issue.

Senators SPECTER and BROWNBACK have been dedicated and tireless leaders on crime and public safety issues throughout their careers, and I am proud to join efforts with them today. Other Senators have also taken a leadership role on these issues, including Senators LEAHY, KENNEDY, BROWNBACK, HATCH, SPECTER, GRASSLEY, FEINSTEIN, DEWINE, SANTORUM, LANDRIEU, BINGAMAN, COBURN, DURBIN, and OBAMA.

The Second Chance Act of 2005 provides a competitive grant program to promote innovative programs to this out a variety of methods aimed at reducing recidivism rates. Efforts would be focus 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 $100 million per year in competitive grant funding . This isn't being wasteful with our scarce federal resources, it's just an acknowledgement 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 cries. We must remember that the average cost of incarcerating each prisoner exceeds 20,000 per year, with expenditures on corrections alone having increased from $9 billion in 1982 to $60 billion in 2002. We simply can't be penny-wise but pound-foolish.

The Second Chance Act of 2005 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 say that we don't want to restrict former drug addicts from working in pharmacies, for example, or to bar sex offenders from working it 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 roust 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 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, substance abuse, and prisoner mentoring--efforts and changes in law that we can do now.

Our Second Chance Act is a next, natural step in our campaign against crime. Making a dent in recidivism rate 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 will need sustained focus. The safety of our neighbors, our children, and our communities depends on it.

I am proud today to join with Senator SPECTER and Senator BROWNBACK in introducing the Second Chance Act and ask our colleagues to join with us in this vital effort.

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