In 1971, while struggling to find an exit strategy from the Vietnam War, President Nixon declared a new war – the War on Drugs. He proposed fighting this war on both the supply side, by cracking down on drug pushers, and on the demand side by investing in strategies to rehabilitate people who were dependent on drugs. Unfortunately, drug abuse remains a serious problem. However, tough sentencing for drug-related crime has done little to deter those on the supply side. Instead, incarceration rates have steadily increased from just under 200,000 people in state and federal prisons in 1971, to more than 1.5 million in 2013.
We now have a prison dependence problem too. In response, President Obama recently called upon Congress to pass legislation that would change our dependency on incarceration as the answer to the nation’s drug problem. Such reforms include alternatives to incarceration, giving judges more discretion in sentencing and lowering mandatory minimums for non-violent drug convictions. A bi-partisan effort to reduce the number of people sent to prison in the first place appears to have gained momentum.
Meanwhile, the Second Chance Reauthorization Act was introduced in the House this week. Like its Senate counterpart, which was introduced with bi-partisan support in June, the bill seeks to improve the chances of success for people when they are released from prison. The House bill has bi-partisan support, including that of Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) the respective chairs of the full Judiciary Committee and the Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee. These are promising signs that cause bill proponents to be optimistic for its ultimate passage this year.
Goodwill® Supports People with Employment Challenges for Successful Reentry
One of the biggest barriers for successful reentry from prison is finding a job. Last year, Goodwill provided job placement and employment services to more than 150,000 people with a criminal record because it believes in supporting people who have been held accountable for their actions as they overcome the challenges of reintegrating back into their communities.
Dwayne Hodges is one of the people with a criminal record that Goodwill has helped to find a job. Dwayne returned to Iowa after serving in the Marines from 1990-1994. His hopes of finding a job faded over time, and he started associating with the wrong people. He needed to earn money, so he started selling crack cocaine. Dwayne was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for his first offense.
“I had seen many people get out of prison and go back, and it turns into kind of a revolving door for them. I was really worried about my prospects,” Dwayne said. He turned to Goodwill for help and learned basic computer skills that helped him apply for jobs. Dwayne now works for Goodwill Industries of the Heartland in Davenport, IA, where he helps homeless veterans to prepare for work and get back on track.
This year, approximately 600,000 people, like Dwayne, will be released from incarceration. Programs, such as those authorized by the Second Chance Act, aim to help them to successfully reintegrate into their communities. This August, you can also show your support for people who are returning from incarceration by urging your members of Congress to co-sponsor the Second Chance Act
Click here to urge your Representative to co-sponsor the House bill.