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Recidivism Reduction and Second Chance Act of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise today to thank my colleagues for passing yesterday by unanimous consent the Recidivism Reduction and Second Chance Act of 2007, which I introduced in March of last year. I am delighted that my colleagues, Senators Specter, Brownback, and Leahy, and I were able to bring Democrats and Republicans together to support this very important piece of legislation.

The bill aims to reduce the rate of recidivism by improving the transition of offenders from prison back into the community. Preventing recidivism is not only the right thing to do, it makes our communities safer and it saves us money.

Today, we have over 2 million individuals in our Federal and State prisons and millions more in local jails. Our Federal and State prisons will release nearly 650,000 of these offenders back into our communities this year. A staggering two-thirds of released State prisoners will be rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years of release.

It is not difficult to see why. These ex-offenders face a number of difficult challenges upon release. The unemployment rate among former inmates is as high as 60 percent; 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. This addiction and dependency often continues during incarceration.

Unless we address these problems, these individuals will commit hundreds of thousands of serious crimes after their release, and our communities will bear the human and economic cost. If we are going to reduce recidivism and crime, we simply have to make concerted, common-sense efforts now to help ex-offenders successfully reenter and reintegrate into their communities.

The Recidivism Reduction and Second Chance Act of 2007 confronts head-on the dire situation of prisoners reentering our communities with insufficient monitoring, little or no job skills, inadequate drug treatment, insufficient housing, lack of basic physical and mental health services, and deficient basic life skills. Through commonsense and cost-effective measures, the bill offers a second chance for ex-offenders, and the children and families that depend on them, and it strengthens our communities and ensures safe neighborhoods.

The Second Chance Act provides grants for the development and implementation of comprehensive substance abuse treatment programs, academic and vocational education programs, housing and job counseling programs, and mentoring for offenders who are approaching release and who have been released. To ensure accountability, the bill requires grantees to establish performance goals and benchmarks and report the results to Congress.

The bill authorizes $324 million over 2 years in competitive grant funding. These funds represent an investment in our future and an acknowledgement of the problem we face. 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. That is more than a 6-fold increase, and the costs keep going up.

A relatively modest investment in offender reentry efforts today is far more cost-effective than the alternative--building more prisons for these ex-offenders to return to if they can't reenter their communities and are convicted of further crimes. An ounce of prevention, as the saying goes, is worth a pound of cure.

I am proud today to witness the passage of the Recidivism Reduction and Second Chance Act, a bill that will transform offender reentry policy in this country. The safety of our neighbors, our children, and our communities depends on it. I urge the President to quickly sign this bill into law.

I would particularly like to thank Nancy Libin on my staff, Lisa Owings on Senator Specter's staff, LaRochelle Young on Senator Brownback's staff, and Noah Bookbinder on Senator Leahy's staff, all of whom worked tirelessly to get this bill passed.

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