Jun 1, 2010

"Making Second Chances Work": The First Conference of the Second Chance Act

Last week, I attended the first national conference for the 14 recipients of the Second Chance Act grants. The conference, Making Second Chances Work, held in Washington D.C. from May 26-27, 2010, offered a forum for peer to peer networking, where grantees from across the U.S. had an opportunity to meet and discuss their experiences and challenges in implementing their programs, to hear from reentry experts, and learn about the types of technical assistance available through the National Reentry Resource Center.

The aim of the Second Chance Act, signed into law in April 2008, is to improve outcomes for individuals reentering our communities from prison and jail. According to the Council of State Governments, "this first of its kind legislation authorizes federal grants to government agencies and non profit organizations to provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victims support, and other services that help reduce recidivism." Each program employs evidence based reentry strategies, and is required to track its effectiveness by comparing the program's recidivism rates against those reentrants not receiving the programming. If effective, the programs will improve the safety of communities across the United States and save taxpayers millions of dollars. Harlem Community Justice Center's Parole Reentry Court is one of the grantees of the Second Chance Act.

Our Wednesday, May 26th Welcome Reception served as an opportunity to hear from many of the members of Congress and representatives for the U.S. Department of Justice that were instrumental in the passage of the legislation. The Honorable Sam Brownback (KS), United States Senate, Danny Davis (IL), United States House of Representatives, Bobby Scott (VA) U.S. House of Representatives, and Rep. Pat Colloton, Kansas House of Representatives all addressed the funding recipients, praising the group for its innovative and promising program designs and conveying the urgency of the success of the programs. The Honorable Grownback told us that in this difficult economic climate, the "test will come early for these programs," and that "if the numbers are not there, the programs will not survive." Jim Burch, Acting Director of the Bureau of Justice prepared us to be ready to testify in front of Congress on the outcomes of these programs. Representative Danny Davis focused on the enormous potential of the Second Chance Act programs to improve the safety of communities across the United States and save taxpayers millions of dollars that would otherwise be used to incarcerate individuals who, with appropriate community support, can thrive in our communities.

The Conference was an inspiring and educational experience that imparted the importance of the programs as a national blueprint for reentry and the urgency of producing tangible results. To learn more about the topics covered at the conference, click here. Rethinking Reentry will continue to update you on the progress of the Parole Reentry Court's efforts to reduce recidivism.