Second Chances

This year, more than 600,000 inmates will be released from American prisons. Three decades of prison ministry have taught me that most of them are unprepared for life on the outside. Our prisons have done little, if anything, to change the attitudes and behaviors that landed these men behind bars. In addition, these men and women face logistical problems, like jobs, housing, and health care, to name but a few. While, for most people, the problems of ex-offenders are a case of "out of sight, out of mind," this view is short-sighted in addition to being callous. Fortunately, the president understands this and cares. In his State of the Union, he called for federal help for prisoner reentry. And Congress is responding. Representatives Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), Mark Souder (R-Ind.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are the co-authors of the "Second Chance Act of 2004." The bill aims to help ex-offenders with their transition to life on the outside -- specifically, in five important areas: jobs, housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and strengthening families. Each of these is addressed to help prisoners in practical ways that take into account their unique circumstances. For example, the bill makes it easier for grandparents to receive support and services while caring for their grandchildren as a result of parental incarceration. This helps children avoid foster care and makes family reunification, where appropriate, upon release more likely. Similarly, the bill provides state and local governments with grants that can be used for family-based treatment. These services will treat parents and their children as a complete family unit, not just as individuals. Now, anticipating the inevitable chorus of "soft on crime," the bill helps states and local governments develop and adopt procedures to ensure that dangerous felons are not released from prison prematurely. This is a reminder that doing right by ex-offenders and public safety are not only compatible but also complementary. By way of acknowledging which programs have the greatest impact on the lives of ex-offenders, the bill encourages faith-based groups to be active in the reentry process. It makes it easier for prison mentors to remain in contact with prisoners after their release -- something we know makes all the difference. After the bill was introduced, the White House issued a statement expressing the president's "strong support." As the president reminded us, "America is the land of the second chance -- and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life." Well said, Mr. President. For Christians, supporting this bill should be natural. If the president is right about ours being a land of second chances, and he is, remember it was Christianity that taught us to be that way. Forgiveness and reconciliation are at the heart of our faith. This bill not only makes religious and moral sense, it is also good public policy. Two out of every three inmates released from prison will be re-arrested within three years. Compassion aside, public safety requires that we do something to help ease their transition to life outside prison. And we know from our ministry in the prisons this works. We have cut recidivism in our InnerChange Freedom Initiative prison in Houston to 8 percent. I say, let's have more second chances. For further reading and information: Learn more about the Second Chance Act of 2004 (H.R. 4676). Read the Statement by the White House Press Secretary on the Second Chance Act. See also the White House Fact Sheet: Protecting Communities by Helping Returning Inmates Find Work. See the July 7 Justice eReport, "Prisoner Reentry Legislation Introduced." Subscribe to this free weekly resource. Visit Justice Fellowship's prisoner reentry page. Pat Nolan, "Road to Redemption," BreakPoint WorldView, May 2004. Pat Nolan, "Breaking the Cycle of Crime," BreakPoint WorldView, September 2003. Pat Nolan, When Prisoners Return (Prison Fellowship, 2004). Learn how to become a Prison Fellowship volunteer (including opportunities for college students). Learn more about InnerChange Freedom Initiative.


Chuck Colson


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