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New Funds to Help Offenders Start Over

If you provide mentoring, substance abuse counseling or other services to help incarcerated juveniles re-enter society, you might soon be eligible for new federal money.

The funding would be allocated under the Second Chance Act (H.R. 1593), passed by Congress last month to help states and localities reintegrate incarcerated adults and youths into communities.

President Bush was expected to sign the bill, which authorizes $360 million in spending, including $55 million in grants for comprehensive ex-offender re-entry planning.

The legislation notes that each year, about 100,000 juveniles aged 17 and younger exit juvenile corrections, state and federal prison facilities. Lawmakers say that without reintegration services, those youths have a 55 percent to 75 percent chance of re-offending.

“The unfinished business of the juvenile justice system is to provide decent after-care to these kids after they get out of custody,” said David Steinhart, director of the Commonweal Juvenile Justice program in Marin County, Calif. “We’re pretending to rehabilitate these kids in facilities that are overwhelmed and understaffed, and then dump them back into home communities with little or no help.”

But youth almost didn’t make it into the bill.

The original bill – introduced in 2004 by then-Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) – “didn’t have young people in it,” said Miriam A. Rollin, vice president of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates prevention programming as a way to reduce crime. As passed, the 100-plus-page legislation makes frequent references to “prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities.”

“ ‘And juvenile facilities’ is what we worked on” adding to the bill, said Rollin, whose group was part of a loose coalition of organizations that pushed for passage.

Grant Opportunities

Among other things, the measure:

• Authorizes $55 million in both fiscal 2009 and 2010 for grants to localities to engage in multi-partner, multi-year re-entry strategic planning with detailed outcome goals and comprehensive plans. The plans can include prerelease preparations – such as finding benefits that offenders might qualify for – case management and dealing with health service needs, such as drug treatment.

• Provides $10 million for re-entry courts, which monitor youth and adult offenders returning to the community and help link them with needed services; $10 million for drug treatment alternatives to incarceration; $10 million for family-based treatment grants; and $5 million to improve educational services at prisons, jails and juvenile facilities.

• Authorizes $15 million for collaborations among state and local offender re-entry efforts focused on substance abuse and criminal justice; $15 million for adult or juvenile offender mentoring programs run by nonprofits; and $20 million for offender employment services run by nonprofits.

• Authorizes $10 million for offender re-entry research.

• Extends the term of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission from three to four years.

A crucial next step is getting the measure funded through the appropriations process, which is gearing up on Capitol Hill. Several prominent sponsors of the bill on the Senate side sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee, including Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Arlen Spector (R-Pa.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Supporters believe that could bode well in the money fight.

The bill is modest, Rollin said, but “if it can facilitate this cross-systems discussion in a number of states and communities about more effective offender re-entry, both for juveniles and adults, then that goes a long way.”

Contact: Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, (202) 776-0027, http://www.fightcrime.org.

Read text of the bill at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:HR01593:@@@L&summ2=m&.

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