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Criminal Justice Backgrounder

 

April 2006

The Second Chance Act

Last year, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) sent a letter to the House Judiciary Chairman and members of the Judiciary Committee urging them to support passage of H.R. 1704, the Second Chance Act of 2005. The Act, in which the USCCB and CCUSA staffs had significant input, was introduced on April 19, 2005, by a bipartisan group of Representatives. The lead sponsors were Rob Portman (R-OH) and Danny Davis (D-IL). The Act addresses some of the many issues facing the more than 600,000 men and women who re-enter society each year from federal and state prisons, as well as local jails. The Second Chance Act of 2005 will help to reduce recidivism rates by:

  • Providing grants to states and local governments to develop or adopt procedures to ensure that dangerous felons are not released from prison prematurely.
  • Providing grants to nonprofit organizations for mentoring adult offenders and providing transitional services for re-integration into the community.
  • Creating a federal interagency taskforce to identify programs and resources on re-entry, and ways to better collaborate; develop interagency initiatives and a national re-entry research agenda; review and report to Congress on the federal barriers that exist to successful re-entry with recommendations.
  • Establishing a national resource center for states, local governments, service providers, faith-based organizations, and corrections and community organizations to collect and disseminate best practices and provide training and support around reentry.
  • Providing grants to states and local governments that may be used to expand treatment centers that offer family-based comprehensive treatment services for parents and their children as a complete family unit.

USCCB and CCUSA staffs continue to meet with congressional members and staff to garner more support for the legislation. As of this writing, there are more than 40 co-sponsors to the House bill. The House Committee held a Subcommittee Hearing late last year. The Senate introduced their version of the bill on October 19, 2005 and held a hearing last November.

USCCB Position
In the 2000 criminal justice statement, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, the bishops called for the redirection of public resources towards more effective programs designed to rehabilitate and reintegrate ex-offenders back into society. “We call upon government to redirect the vast amount of public resources away from building more and more prisons and toward better and more effective programs aimed at crime prevention, rehabilitation, education efforts, substance abuse treatment, and programs of probation, parole, and reintegration.”

"Gang Bill"

On Wednesday, May 11, 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 279 to 144 and passed HR 1279, the Gang Deterrence and Community Protection Act of 2005, (the Gang Bill). In May of 2005 the USCCB and CCUSA sent a letter to the entire House asking members to oppose provisions in the bill that would expand the use of the death penalty, treat juveniles as adults and impose mandatory minimum sentences.

What the Gang Bill Will Do:
  • Expand the Death Penalty: the bill would create several new death-eligible offenses and increase the penalty for some existing crimes to death.
  • Transfer Juveniles to the Adult Criminal System: the bill would result in the expanded "transfer" or "waiver" of youth to the adult criminal system and/or placing an additional number of youth in adult correctional facilities.
  • Expand Mandatory Minimums: the bill expands mandatory minimum sentences for a broad category of offenses that are deemed gang crime. In the Gang Bill, the mandatory minimum sentences for gang related crimes range from five to thirty years.
USCCB Position
  • On the Death Penalty: The bishops of the United States oppose the use of the death penalty. Catholic teaching on capital punishment is clear, “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person” (Catechism of the Catholic Church).
  • On Transfering Juveniles to the Adult Criminal Justice System: While there is no question that violent and dangerous youth need to be confined for their safety and that of society, the bishops do not support provisions that treat children as though they are equal to adults. “Placing children in adult jails is a sign of failure, not a solution.” (Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, November 15, 2000)
  • On Mandatory Minimums: Although the offenses are serious and individuals who are convicted ought to be properly held accountable, mandatory sentencing formulations could prevent judges from properly assessing an individual’s culpability during the crime or from other factors that have bearing on recidivism. This can sometimes result in harsh and inappropriate sentences. “We must renew our efforts to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Therefore, we do not support mandatory sentencing that replaces judges' assessments with rigid formulations.” (Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, November 15, 2000).
The focus now shifts to the Senate where a similar bill, S. 155, will still need to be debated and marked-up by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate version will contain more funding for programs the Conference and CCUSA supports but we will have to work diligently to strip the legislation of the provisions we oppose. As of this writing, Judiciary leaders had not announced any time frame for debate on S. 155 but the Chairman, Sen. Specter (R-PA), has placed the bill on the calendar which allows for debate to occur at anytime.


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