Today, the Senate introduced legislation that could help ease the reentry process for the formerly incarcerated. Mass incarceration is a hunger issue. For many returning citizens, the prospect of integrating themselves back into their communities is daunting, leading some to fall into poverty.
The Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction, and Elimination Costs for Taxpayers in Our National System (Corrections) Act aims to reduce the prison population and offer a better integration process for returning citizens through the use of existing programs such as recidivism reduction, risk-based time credits, and drug treatment and mental health services.
“We agree with the senators that when inmates are better prepared to re-enter communities, they are less likely to commit crimes after they are released. This is an important step in addressing the mass incarceration problem that perpetuates cycle of hunger and poverty,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.
The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John Cornyn (R-TX), would allow for certain low-risk offenders with exemplary behavior to spend the end of their earned-time credit under community supervision. Other provisions encourage those in prison to participate in recidivism reduction programs and other activities, like prison jobs, which can lead to the awarding of earned credit.
Still, many states still enforce life-time bans on non-violent drug offenders for safety-net programs, such as SNAP, (formerly food stamps) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), programs that are vital to many returning citizens as they look for work and try to rebuild their lives. Part of Bread’s work includes getting these bans lifted and ensuring people who qualify for these vital programs have access to them.
“While this bill is a good step, Congress must also address the larger issue of sentencing reform,” Beckmann said. “In addition to ensuring that prisoners have access to the skills they need to properly re-enter society, we must reexamine lengthy and inflexible mandatory sentences imposed on low-level, non-violent offenders, and implement alternatives to imprisonment where appropriate.”
The federal prison population has increased from approximately 25,000 in 1980 to nearly 216,000 today.
“African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately incarcerated and tend to receive longer sentences than white defendants convicted of the same crime. A reform of our prison system must be guided by our moral obligation to truly give those who want a second chance an opportunity to succeed.” Beckmann added.