WASHINGTON (NNPA) – U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) stood behind President George Bush as he sat down, pen in hand, in front of the open folder. Among the string of witnesses beside Davis were Black Caucus members Reps. Bobby Scott (Va.), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (Ohio) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (Mich.).
It was a rare, but happily unified non-partisan gathering to sign what had once appeared to be a mission- impossible for Davis. It was five years ago when he first conceived, introduced and began fighting for the Second Chance Act to deter the recidivism rate that is so disparate among Black inmates. For five years straight, the legislation failed to make it through Congress.
Finally, mainly due to a Democratic Congress, the refusal of Davis and his Senate co-patron Joseph Biden (Del.) to give up, and some strong bi-partisan coalescing, the Second Chance Act, last week, was being signed by Republican President Bush.
Davis is exuberant about the possible impact.
"It's a comprehensive approach to looking at what it takes to get a person back into normal life. Even more than the programs that are going to actually be funded, it is an opportunity to help Americans to change their mindsets and to help put corrections and rehabilitation as a central part of our criminal justice system," Davis said in an interview after the signing that took place inside the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House. "There is no point in talking corrections until we do things to correct. The concept calls for beginning before a person gets out. What we need to do is the moment a person enters prison, we need to be trying to figure out what is it that we can do to keep that person from ever coming back. So, you've got to find out what got them there. So, whatever that was, you've got to work on it right then. And then you work on it consistently with the hope that you're going to be able to prevent it from causing them to return."
Congress is in the process of allocating funds for the programs; so the cost of putting the bill into affect is still unknown, legislators say.
The bill, H. R. 1593, will take affect on Oct. 8, exactly 180 days after its signing last week. It outlines dozens of opportunities for inmates to get help to stem the tide of re-incarceration by making it easier for them to reintegrate into society. It includes:
• Educational, literacy, vocational programs inside correctional facilities as well as job placement services to facilitate re-entry into the community;
• Substance abuse treatment and services, including outpatient as well as residential services and recovery programs;
• Coordinated supervision and comprehensive services for offenders;
• Family development services, including encourage offenders to develop safe, healthy, and responsible family relationships and parent-child relationships; and by involving the entire family unit in comprehensive reentry services.
• The involvement of prison, jail, or juvenile facility mentors in the reentry process and enabling those mentors to remain in contact with offenders while in custody and after reentry into the community.
Davis stresses that offenders will not be forced to take advantage of any of the programs. However, they will be strongly encouraged.