What Second Chance?

By · Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

Two months after the passage of historic legislation, Second Chance Act, designed to reduce recidivism, administrators continue with obstacles that hinder successful transitions from prison to society

In April of 2008, President Bush signed the Second Chance Act of 2007. According to an overwhelming majority from both houses of Congress, the legislation had several purposes. Primarily, the law exists to break the cycle of recidivism. One of the changes Congress enacted was to extend possibilities for access to halfway house placement. Unfortunately, administrators in the institution where I’m being held have thus far refused to recommend inmates for maximum halfway house placement.

With the Second Chance Act, Congress stated that federal inmates were now eligible to serve the final 12 months of their sentences in a community corrections center. Inmates could serve up to the final six-months of that 12-month window on home confinement. By providing that opportunity for inmates to serve the final portion of their sentences in a community corrections center, Congress hoped to help offenders rebuild ties to the community. Such change would enhance their ability to transition from prison into law-abiding citizens.

Although I expect administrators will modify their rigid stance and implement the policies to fulfill the intentions of Congress by 2010, it may take litigation to push them along. As of this writing, administrators in this facility resist this need for change from the you’ve-got-nothing-coming mentality. Instead of providing inmates with a clear path to maximum halfway house placement, policies here are to award minimal halfway house placement. Clearly, those who preside over such policies ignore the struggles inmates will face upon release from confinement.

No inmate leaves prison with intentions of failing to make a successful transition. Yet as Congress pointed out through the historic Second Chance Act, nearly seven of every ten people who leave prison return to confinement. The flawed policies of the past are at least partly to blame. With time restrictions on access to visiting and telephone, inmates lose their support systems as they spend time inside federal prisons. Congress authorized the extended halfway house provisions as a good-faith effort to help inmates strengthen their community ties. Prison administrators, however, ignore or diminish this need. Despite specific language in the legislation citing that “families are an often underutilized resource in the reentry process,” administrators at this prison are using evidence of such support as a reason to prolong an inmate’s stay in prison and minimize his access to halfway house placement.

Danny’s case presents a twisted example. He has been incarcerated for longer than 11 years. Despite repeated requests for transfer to a prison closer to home, for the past four years administrators have kept Danny out of state. He has not had a single visit in longer than five years. He is 38-years-old now and within one year of his scheduled release date. During Danny’s imprisonment, he has maintained a record that is free of any disciplinary conduct; he has earned two college degrees; he has participated in volunteer community projects that allow him to travel into society without escort or restraints. Clearly, Danny does not represent a threat.

Danny requested 12-months of halfway house placement. To bolster his argument for consideration, he explained to his case manager that he had never held a job in his life, yet he wanted desperately to succeed upon release. While living in the halfway house, Danny pointed out that he would have to

  1. secure employment
  2. save money necessary to rent an apartment, including a deposit, first, and last month payment
  3. save money to purchase transportation
  4. save money to purchase clothing
  5. pay for his living expenses while he served time in the halfway house
  6. re-acclimate himself to society after longer than a decade in prison.

He must also agree to forfeit 25 percent of his gross pay as a condition of living in the halfway house. Danny seemed a perfect candidate for the full 12-months of halfway house placement that Congress authorized with the Second Chance Act.

Danny’s case manager, however, told him that she would submit him for only between five and six months of halfway house placement.

“Five or six months,” Danny protested, “that won’t be enough time. I’m a felon without any work history. I expect to struggle in finding employment and may not earn more than $10 per hour. To fund my transition into society I’ll need to save a minimum of $4,000. How can you expect me to do that in only five to six months?”

“Records show that your family has been sending you an average of $100 per month,” his case manager responded. “They should help you.”

“They’ve been sending me that money to pay for my phone calls because I’ve been locked up out of state. That’s the only way we’ve been able to stay connected, but my mother lives in a trailer and she’s in her 60s. She can’t afford to help me. I’m 38 and need to take care of myself. Are you telling me that the responsible approach for me to take upon release is to leech off my family?”

“Our policy says you’re only entitled to between five and six months,” his case manager said. “That’s all I’m submitting you for. The rest is up to you.”

Danny’s prison record showed that he had acted responsibly, as was evidenced by his minimum-security rating. He was also realistic about the high hurdles that awaited him upon release. Congress was moving in the right direction to fight recidivism when it authorized administrators to provide inmates like Danny with up to 12 months of halfway house placement. Prison case managers at this institution, however, refused to budge. Rather than providing a path for Danny’s successful re-entry, they were setting Danny up for failure upon release. Ironically, the efforts he made to maintain family ties during his eleven years of confinement have disqualified him from maximum halfway house placement.

Inmates need time to make the transition from prison to society. Until administrators begin encouraging all inmates to earn maximum halfway house placement, however, they continue the status quo and facilitate the high recidivism rates Congress is trying to avoid.

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2 Responses to “What Second Chance?”

  1. Justin Van Dyk says:

    Hello Mr. Santos, My name is Justin Van Dyk and I am in Dr. Torres’ Corrections class and I have a few questions reguarding this article.

    1. You specifically mention Danny’s story, he is basically a very well behaved prisoner who obeys all the rules. I agree that Danny should be placed into a halfway house so he can make the transition into civil life easier. My question is how the average inmate will adjust to this program. In other words, will other inmates abuse this program? Not all prisoners are going to be like Danny or yourself. The two of you are trying to better yourselves while other prisoners are not.

    2. My second question involves the type of people that qualify for the 12 month halfway house placement program. If Danny is not eligible for the full 12 month period I do not even know if I would be eligible for the program. Maybe you could fill me in on some of the requirements that would grant an individual a 12 month stay in a halfway house.

    Thank you very much for your time Mr. Santos, I really appreciate and I look forward to hearing back from you.

  2. Melinda Kauffman says:

    There is no second chance!! I live in Ohio and have been a nurse for 15 years. No prior criminal history. April 2007 I was caught obtaining prescription pain pills by deception. I entered into a contract with the board of nursing to obtain my nursing license back. The investigating officer was asked to quit due to sexual coercion. July 2008 I was secretly indicted for aggravated possession of Percocet F3 and deception to obtain F4. I was able to show full-time employment,10 months random drug testing (all clean), the board of nursing was allowing me to return to nursing, my completed drug treatment and my on-going recovery work.
    I lost my job due to court dates/jail,i lost my drivers license (mandatory..you know). Ohio has statute’s in place for addicts that have crossed over to the non-violent crimes. I absolutely understand why when you enter the justice system your odds are against you. I have an extremely supportive family, three wonderful children,two years of recovery and the courts have taken more away than the addiction. I was able to overcome active addiction and return to society… until the courts became involved.