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Public Statements

Second Chance Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

SECOND CHANCE ACT -- (Senate - April 11, 2007)

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to speak in favor of the Recidivism Reduction and Second Chance Act, a bill to strengthen community safety and reduce poverty by improving the reintegration of people returning from prison. I am pleased to work with Senators BIDEN, SPECTER, BROWNBACK, and LEAHY as a cosponsor of this very important bill.

It is estimated that approximately 650,000 prisoners are released into communities across America every year. They have paid their debt to society and now return to their homes and neighborhoods, to their families, and back to their lives.

The problem is that for most of these returning prisoners, their families, neighborhoods, and prior lives often lack what it takes to ensure successful reintegration.

In the best of cases, incarcerated individuals maintain contact with their families and receive rehabilitation services while in prison; they are released to a network of law-abiding peers and quickly find a rewarding job that provides the skills and career development for long-term opportunity. Released prisoners can help support their families, become active in their churches and other community organizations, stay off drugs, away from trouble, on track, and out of jail.

Unfortunately, that rarely happens. Up to two-thirds of all released prisoners nationwide end up back in prison within just 3 years. They don't manage to find and keep effective jobs and to care for themselves and their families. Many become a drain on their families and a drain on the system. They are more likely to resort to criminal activity and to perpetuate poverty and family dysfunction.

Their failure is our failure since we all share the high cost, lost opportunities, and other burdens of unemployment, crime, community failure, and cycles of recidivism.

Fortunately, people have been hard at work in hundreds of communities and community organizations all across the country to improve the process of reintegrating prisoners. As one example, the Safer Foundation in Illinois has managed to cut the State's recidivism rate by almost 50 percent for the people who receive Safer's supportive employment services. And Safer has further demonstrated that ex-prisoners who are still employed after 12 months of supportive services have a recidivism rate of lower than 10 percent. One of Safer's program models, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, provides participants with job placement and support services, and matches them with mentors from the neighborhoods where the participants reside. Only 2 percent of the participants in this community and faith-
based program recidivated over a 2-year period.

One of the most effective reentry strategies that Safer, the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, and other nonprofit organizations have devised is transitional jobs, a strategy that worked for welfare to work, and is now working for prison returnees. In a transitional jobs program, former prisoners with employment challenges are hired and paid a wage for legitimate employment in a time-limited, subsidized job. The program not only offers real work, income, skill development, and a letter of reference and experience to add to their resume, it also offers coaching and support services to help participants overcome substantial barriers to employment, such as substance abuse or mental health issues. The program focuses heavily on placement into unsubsidized work at the earliest possible time and job retention services after placement.

The participants in transitional jobs programs gain an immediate source of legitimate income upon release. They also gain paid work experience, access to professional counseling and training services, and a clear path to unsubsidized employment in the community. Employers gain access to a pipeline of supported workers who have demonstrated an ability to do the job and remain employable. Most of all, our communities gain by helping ex-prisoners to contribute positively to family, neighborhood, and the larger environment.

Too many people are caught up in the criminal justice system. Especially within the African-American community where nearly a third of Black males will enter State or Federal prison sometime during their lifetime. Communities are protected and strengthened when people who break the law are punished appropriately. But communities--all communities, including yours and mine--are weakened if we neglect the challenges of rehabilitation and reentry.

To improve the integration of former prisoners and to reduce recidivism is in all of our best interests. A well-designed reentry system can enhance public safety, reduce recidivism, reduce costs, and help prisoners achieve long-term integration. The Second Chance Act is an important effort to strengthen America's communities. The bill is supported by a wide range of organizations, and I urge my colleagues to join us in passing this important legislation.

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