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January 10, 2008

Why is Senator Sessions really blocking the Second Chance Act?

I have only done occasional blogging on the federal Second Chance Act (see here and here), in part because I was waiting and hoping for this long-stalled legislation to finally become law.  But now I see from this news article that "Sen. Jeff Sessions, in the final days of the congressional year, temporarily blocked legislation to help former prisoners re-enter society because of concerns that it would dramatically increase federal spending on untested programs."  Here are more details from the article:

The Alabama Republican's staff asked for more time to review the Second Chance Act, which passed the House in November by a wide margin and has broad bipartisan support in the Senate.  Sessions supports the goal of helping released prisoners become productive citizens and less likely to commit another crime, his spokesman Stephen Boyd said Wednesday.  But the proposal increases spending on grants for state and local governments from $16 million to $55 million.  Sessions argued that some of those programs have not been fully evaluated and may duplicate existing programs.

The grants can go toward helping the recently incarcerated find employment, housing, substance abuse treatment and other assistance. "We are looking at ways that we could improve the bill's language in those respects," Boyd said.  Overall, the proposed legislation would spend about $165 million annually on grants, research, career training, family counseling and mentoring, according to the Council of State Governments Justice Center, which endorses the bill.

With about 1.7 million people in state and federal prisons and most of them serving less than a life sentence, advocates say the issue of recidivism has attracted liberals and conservatives who want to keep people from cycling back through, costing taxpayers money and causing prison crowding.  Almost 68 percent of prisoners are rearrested within three years, according to Department of Justice statistics.  "A modest expenditure to help transition offenders back into the community can save taxpayers thousands of dollars in the long run," Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, said when the bill passed the House 347-62....

I have a hard time accepting at face value the claim by Senator Sessions that he is worried that the current version of the Second Chance Act might allocate some small amount of monies to "untested programs."  Our nation is currently spending more than $200 million every single day on "untested programs" in Iraq, and there is little reason to have much faith that we are ever going to get a decent return on our investments there.  In contrast, lots of research shows that monies spent up-front on re-entry programs is a terrific investment that, as Rep. Cannon noted, can save lots of money (and also prevent much non-economic suffering to potential crime victims) in the long run.

It bears remembering that the head of Senator Sessions' own political party is, in a sense, the chief sponsor of the Second Chance Act.  The bill can be traced back to this wonderful passage in President George Bush's 2004 State of the Union address:

Tonight I ask you to consider another group of Americans in need of help.  This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from prison back into society.  We know from long experience that if they can't find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit crime and return to prison.  So tonight, I propose a four-year, $300 million prisoner re-entry initiative to expand job training and placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based groups.  America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.

How sad that, a full four years after President Bush made this pitch, Senator Sessions is balking about the costs of a bill that only provides roughly half the funds that the President initially proposed.  Not only am I disappointed with Senator Sessions, but I am also troubled that none of the prominent Senators running for President have made an active or vocal pitch for getting this legislation finally passed.

Some related posts discussing the Second Chance Act:

January 10, 2008 at 08:04 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I think most Senators lie about their reasons for doing controversial things. As you note, it seems strange that Senator Sessions would want to stall something that President Bush wants passed. If he opposes the bill on its merits, he should say so. Maybe he just wants Alabama pork tacked on to some other bill somewhere.

Even so, it seems odd to say that now that the U.S. is in Iraq, Congress must spend like the proverbial drunken sailor, and how dare anyone who opposes a complete withdrawal from Iraq ever question whether Congress is wasting money elsewhere. If Senator Sessions thinks that pulling out of Iraq is a bad idea, then as long as the troops are going to stay over there, the feds might as well pay for their body armor.

Posted by: | Jan 10, 2008 9:22:57 AM

"it seems odd to say that now that the U.S. is in Iraq, Congress must spend like the proverbial drunken sailor"

I don't think that's the argument, nor would I remotely compare spending on the much-needed Second Chance Act to the expenditures of a "proverbial drunken sailor."

Rather, Doc's point was surely that LOTS more research supports the programs in the 2d Chance Act than not only the Iraq war but a lot of things Sessions supports. As such, his stated criteria for this decision seem both misplaced and selectively applied.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 10, 2008 10:49:37 AM

This is very interesting. Grants are the most partisan and random way of funding new programs. I can see lots of waste and ineffective programing coming from this. This does not mean that tens of thousands of non-violent prisoners should not be released. They should.
Beth

Posted by: beth curtis | Jan 10, 2008 11:37:32 AM

it seems strange because Sessions has introduced legislation to lower the crack/powder disparity

Posted by: rob | Jan 10, 2008 3:56:36 PM

I don't think that's the argument, nor would I remotely compare spending on the much-needed Second Chance Act to the expenditures of a "proverbial drunken sailor."

Rather, Doc's point was surely that LOTS more research supports the programs in the 2d Chance Act than not only the Iraq war but a lot of things Sessions supports. As such, his stated criteria for this decision seem both misplaced and selectively applied.

I disagree. The Iraq war has little in common with the second chance act. To say that one is a hypocrite or inconsistent for using some criteria to decide whether to support a war and different criteria to decide whether to support an inmate reentry program borders on loony.

Posted by: | Jan 11, 2008 2:44:49 AM

I believe Sen. Sessions is up for reelection this fall to a third term in the senate. I haven't heard who the likely opposition will be, but in this state, being "tough on crime" never hurts, even if the statement may be meaningless. It could be that he's afraid of the ominous voiceover stating "Jeff Sessions wants to put thousands of criminals back on the streets . . ."

Posted by: slim | Jan 11, 2008 10:04:02 PM

I would like to know If they will pass the second chance bill 4402-4405 which give teen a second chances or are they going to let them die in prison!!!

Posted by: tamika bryant | Apr 15, 2008 2:05:59 AM

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