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Congress recognizes April as Second Chance Month to raise awareness of the consequences of a criminal record: barriers to employment, housing and education that increase the chances of recidivism and prevent people from reaching their full potential.
But while many members of Congress are using this month to advocate for a second chance, some will use it to criticize improvements to the justice system.
KATHY HOCHUL HAS THE PRESS TO SKIP QUESTIONS ON CHANGES ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE
These critics mistakenly blame Congress’ adoption of the First Step Act in 2018 for increases in certain violent crimes. These allegations are unfounded. The First Step Act, which passed Congress with an overwhelming bipartisan, almost unanimous vote, does not harm public security. It improves it by encouraging incarcerated people to remain crime-free when they leave the federal justice system. Data proves that this goal is being achieved.
The First Step Act was based on evidence-based reforms that improve the ability of former prisoners to find work, feed their families, reintegrate back into society, and remain on the straight and narrow path. The bill does not reward bad behavior; it encourages good behavior by giving judgment credits to selected former offenders who successfully complete training programs that have been shown to increase their likelihood of success upon release.
According to the Department of Justice, “research shows that inmates attending penitentiary education have 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than those who do not, and that every dollar spent on prison education saves four to five dollars on costs. by remand. ” It also shows that those who get a job are far less likely to repeat offenses and re-enter the criminal justice system. Increased re-entry success is the best way to improve public safety.
And that was what the First Step Act did. It increased the use of recidivism reduction programs and strengthened the public’s belief in the justice system by correcting inequalities in the law.
Instead of using Second Chance Month as a means of attacking past improvements in our federal criminal justice system, this month should be about exploring ways to build on those past successes. Fortunately, many in Congress do just that.
For example, a bipartisan coalition in Congress with the Clean Slate Act seeks to make it easier for those previously convicted of non-violent crimes to find work, housing and education. This legislation is based on the experience of states such as Pennsylvania, Utah and Michigan. It will reduce recidivism by sealing the records of certain low-risk offenders convicted of non-violent offenses who have exhibited good behavior over a sufficient period of time. Other bills, such as the Begin Again Act and the HOPE Act, seek to achieve similar goals for other audiences and are also worth considering as we reflect on new opportunities this month.
Whether those with covert political motives want to admit it, the data overwhelmingly shows that our shattered criminal justice system is not reaching its core goal of improving public safety. This affects all communities across the country.
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In March, Texas Southern University and Utah State University produced a study for Futures Restored, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing recidivism and crime by creating opportunities for rehabilitated former offenders. The study found that “the incidence of incarceration does not differ much between white-majority rural areas and black-majority urban areas” and “unemployment rates correlate directly with recidivism rates across all geographies.”
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The lesson here is that Congress’ efforts to rectify the criminal justice system will ultimately alleviate, not exacerbate, the problems we face in our judicial system. Republicans and Democrats in Congress should use Second Chance Month as an opportunity to accelerate more reforms, and they should ignore the critics’ unfounded clues and move forward. It is the best for public safety and law and order.