Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bush Signs Second Chance Act of 2007

Today President Bush signed into law the Second Chance Act of 2007, federal legislation designed to ensure the safe and successful return of prisoners to the community.

According to the Council of State Governments, "There are currently 1.7 million people serving time in our federal and state prisons, and millions of people cycling through local jails every year. Ninety-five percent of all prisoners incarcerated today will eventually be released. The Second Chance Act will help ensure the transition people make from prison or jail to the community is safe and successful. "

While in prison, the Second Chance Act was often discussed (trust me, inmates are very aware of potential legislation that is relevant to their situation -- there are documents in the law library that keep us updated -- although they have learned not to get their hopes up too much). Unfortunately, this is not exactly the legislation that we -- at least the guys I hung out with -- were interested in, not that this legislation might not be helpful to some. The legislation they really cared about is called the Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2007, which is currently stalled in Congress.

But first, the key provisions of the legislation signed today. Then I will discuss the legislation we really want.

Key Provisions

Demonstration Grants. Provides grants to states and local governments that may be used to promote the safe and successful reintegration into the community of individuals who have been incarcerated. Allowable uses of funds include employment services, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victims services, and methods to improve release and revocation decisions using risk-assessment tools.

Mentoring Grants. Provides grants to nonprofit organizations that may be used for mentoring adult offenders or offering transitional services for reintegration into the community.

Offender Reentry Substance Abuse Treatment. Creates grants to improve the availability of drug treatment to offenders in prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities.

Family Drug Treatment Programs. Authorizes grants to states, local governments, and Indian tribes to develop and implement family-based treatment programs for incarcerated parents who have minor children.

Federal Reentry Initiative. Provides guidance to the Bureau of Prisons for enhanced reentry planning procedures. Specific information on health, employment, personal finance, release requirements and community resources shall be provided to each inmate released.

Reentry Research. Authorizes the U.S. Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics to conduct reentry-related research.

National Adult and Juvenile Offender Reentry Resource Center. Establishes a national resource center to collect and disseminate best practices and to provide training on and support for reentry efforts.


Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2007

Now, about the other legislation whose name is similar to the signed bill. It is intended to allow former convicts to file a petition to expunge their conviction record for certain nonviolent criminal offenses.

Currently, federal offenders are offenders forever unless pardoned by the president.

Good luck with your application! :)

Under this proposed legislation, federal offenders can have their conviction expunged, something that normally only occurs at the state level. Upon expungement, all records pertaining to the criminal offense, except publicly available court opinions and appeal documents, would be sealed. Ex-offenders would no longer be required to divulge information related to the expunged conviction. Their status as ex-offenders would not be grounds to disqualify them from any profession. However, a nonpublic record of a disposition or conviction would still be retained by the Department of Justice for use in any subsequent legal action.


The bill specifies five criteria that individuals must meet in order to qualify for the Second Chance Act. They are:

1. No convictions for a violent offense and no conviction for a nonviolent offense other than the one they are trying to expunge.
2. Must have fulfilled all requirements of their sentence.
3. Must have remained free from drug or alcohol dependency for at least one year and have been rehabilitated to the court's satisfaction, if that is part of their sentence.
4. Must have obtained a high school diploma or GED.
5. Must have completed at least one year of community service, as determined by the court.

Nonviolent offenses are defined by the Act as "a misdemeanor or felony offense... [that does not involve] the use of a weapon or violence and which did not actually involve violence in its commission."

Obviously, for white collar guys like myself, who don't really need re-entry assistance, this legislation is much more relevant.


Anonymous said...

Bill, if you were not self employed or say business was bad and you shut down due to slow economic times and wanted to rejoin the work force in a professional capacity such as a corporate job, how would you fare in getting past the application/resume, leave alone the interview. I assume this would be a shut door. How do you reintegrate? Say you were a Corporate professional making $ 75 k a year, now a ex-con how do you find a job paying what you are used to making? Does your PO help ypu find such a job? or expect you to get a job? explain the incentive...

Anonymous said...

The fact is you ARE required to obtain "suitable" employment as terms of your release. The PO does not help in this matter. In fact, if you have half way house time you are required to be employed within 15 working days of your transfer or they can send you back to prison as a violation. There is the possibility of an extension. The benefit of employment is you then qualify for furlough and extended home time and/or early release. The sad thing is in my case, I was new to the area (my wife relocated to a new city by her job while I was incarcerated). I informed my halfway house employment counselor of this fact and the need for any help they could give me. The answer was to give the phone number to get the bus schedule and a yellow pages and told to find a job. Great help