A few months ago we wrote about an exciting shift in political momentum away from mass incarceration when President Obama commuted the drug sentences for eight individuals in federal prison. In 2014, it seems that Congress and the Federal Government are going one step further – by offering their support for reentry and for people returning to society.
This support could not come soon enough. For decades, the number of people in federal and California prisons and jails has swelled, as people in power have focused on passing tougher sentencing laws. Today, one in every 31 adults is under some form of correctional control. Now, as part of what the New York Times described as “the first major reforms to America’s broken criminal justice system in a generation,” Congress is considering a bipartisan bill aimed at stemming the tide of incarceration by helping more prisoners make the transition back into society.
The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act highlights Congress’ newfound enthusiasm for the reentry process. As a non-profit focused on ensuring that people successfully transition from prison to community life, we at Root & Rebound are delighted by the bill’s focus on reentry. On this blog we have often discussed the need to view reentry as a long-term process – one that must start on day one of an individual‘s incarceration. The bill goes some way in acknowledging this need. It would allow low-risk prisoners to earn credit for early release by participating in education, job training and drug treatment programs. For many people in prison, this training and support could make the difference between returning to prison and successful reentry into society.
In another exciting development, Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that the Bureau of Prisons will impose new requirements on halfway houses that serve people in reentry. The new reforms include standardized treatment for people with mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as new permission for cell phone use, and transportation, so that people living in halfway houses can seek out job opportunities more easily. This reform acknowledges returning citizens are first and foremost human beings with material, social, and emotional needs – not only the need for employment and healthcare, but also the need to communicate freely with their loved ones.
Both The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act and the Bureau of Prisons’ new requirements on Federal Halfway Houses reinforce the Federal Government’s commitment to helping people who are in prison transition back into society, which is heartening to witness. These important reforms mark an exciting time in our nation’s history as we turn away from draconian sentencing laws to a much-needed focus on rehabilitation. They go some way in addressing the big question – As over 95% of people in prison will be released, what processes can we put in place to ensure their successful reentry?
As reentry takes center stage in our political dialogue on criminal justice, join Root & Rebound in supporting these reforms and addressing the challenges of reentry in our local community!