Rehab bill should get approval

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama has held up a bill from coming out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and going to the full body for a vote.

The request came from the Republican senator&8217;s staff. They wanted more time to study the bill, which was placed in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 11, 2007, after the House passed it.

Sessions said he wants to ensure that the measure, known as the Second Chance Act of 2007 doesn&8217;t duplicate services. It carries a hefty price tag of $165 million.

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The measure would give the tools to those in prison to help stay out of prison. For instance, pilot programs in the U.S. already have inmates taking GED courses, seminars to help them make better choices and transitional programs to help when the inmate gets back out in the population outside razor wire and sliding doors.

Let&8217;s face it. During the last 40 years, the law-and-order politics of our country has seen a lot of people locked up.

The most recent figures released by the U.S. Department of Justice show that in 2006

&8212; the latest year for which there are figures &8212; about 2.258 million prisoners were held in federal or state prisons or in local jails. That&8217;s an increase of 2.9 percent from 2005.

When 2006 ended, state prisons were operating between 98 percent and 114 percent of capacity, compared to 100 percent and 115 percent in 2000. That means prison populations are increasing at the same rate as expansion rates.

Of the adults on parole on Jan. 1, 2006, amounting to 665,300, and those released from prison to parole supervision during the year, 485,900, about 16 percent were re-incarcerated.

About half of all the probationers had been convicted of a felony and about half of a misdemeanor. More than seven in 10 were on probation for a non-violent offense, including more than a quarter for a drug law violation and a sixth for driving while intoxicated.

Here&8217;s where Alabama fits in in a major way. Five states accounted for more than half&8212;

57 percent &8212; of the growth in the probation population, according to the study of the growth in probation population. California lead the way, Minnesota came in second and Alabama came in third. Colorado and Pennsylvania brought up the rear.

Nearly one in five of 2.2 million probationers who exited supervision during 2006 went back to prison.

The Second Chance Bill provides drug rehab, GED programs, life choices programs and a host of other proven successful programs for inmates in prison.

It would behoove the senator&8217;s staff, when it studies the measure, to consider that focusing on a sentence alone doesn&8217;t help an individual. Most inmates, especially those convicted of drug crimes, theft or DUIs don&8217;t stay in jail all their lives.

They are in prison for a period of time, and then it&8217;s over. And when they finish their jail time, most of them go back home.

Back home means success or failure. Does the prison system turn back individuals who have nothing, not even a high school education? Does the prison system put a drug addict without any rehab back into the streets? Does the prison system put someone without job skills back in the streets?

Prison is two-fold. It is a place of punishment; of separation from society. It also is a place of rehabilitation, where skills &8212; job and life &8212; should be learned.

Programs exist all over the county. Some of them are basic GED courses taught by volunteers or literacy classes to teach basic reading and writing skills. Other programs, depending on the community support, are more sophisticated and include drug rehabilitation programs or job skills training.

The $165 million would be wisely spent. Sen. Sessions would be wise to jump on this band wagon and let the measure go to the full Senate for vote.After all, there has to be some redemption at some time after prison.