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Prisoner Re-entry Bill

 

 April 29, 2005 

The Honorable F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.
Chairman
House Judiciary Committee
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-6143

Dear Chairman Sensenbrenner:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities USA, we urge you to support passage of H.R. 1704, the Second Chance Act of 2005. This important bipartisan legislation was introduced on April 19, by Congressmen Rob Portman (R-OH), Danny Davis (D-IL), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Chris Cannon (R-UT), and Congresswomen Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (D-OH), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) and Katherine Harris (R-FL). The Act begins to address some of the many issues facing more than 600,000 men and women who re-enter society each year from federal and state prisons, as well as the thousands more who reenter from local jails everyday.

During the President’s 2004 State of the Union Address, the President correctly pointed out that “we know from long experience that if they can’t find work, or a home or help, they are much more likely to commit more crimes and return to prison.”

Unfortunately, too few of those who return to our communities from prison or jail are prepared for their release or receive any supportive services beyond a bus ticket and a few days’ spending money. One-third of all corrections departments provide no funds whatsoever to prisoners upon release. In addition, many of those leaving jail and prison suffer from chronic health problems, have no housing, little education or job training, and generally lack the supportive services needed for a successful re-entry. As a result sixty-seven percent of persons released from state prisons were arrested for new crimes within the first three years after release, according to a 2002 study by the Justice Department.

As Catholic Christians, we actively support the community’s right to establish and enforce laws that protect people and advance the common good.  However, our faith teaches us that both victims and offenders have a God given dignity that calls for justice not vengeance. As the Bishops stated in their 2000 pastoral statement, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice: Just as God never abandons us, so too we must be in covenant with one another. We are all sinners, and our response to sin and failure should not be abandonment and despair, but rather justice, contrition, reparation, and return or re-integration of all into the community. We believe the Second Chance Act of 2005 is a significant first step toward creating a more just criminal justice system. H.R. 1704 will help to reduce recidivism rates by using common sense solutions, such as:

  • 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 or 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 family-based treatment centers that offer family-based comprehensive treatment services for parents and their children as a complete family unit.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for your consideration of this important legislation. The Second Chance Act of 2005 will enhance public safety and it will improve the quality of life in communities across the country.  If there is any way we can be of assistance but do not hesitate to contact our offices. With every good wish, we are

Faithfully yours,

Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio
Diocese of Brooklyn
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Rev. Larry Snyder
President, Catholic Charities USA



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