November 15, 2013

Senators Introduce Bipartisan Prison Reform Bill

Legislation Would Help Reduce Recidivism

Washington, DC – As federal prison and detention costs continue to skyrocket, U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) are pushing legislation that would help lower costs and reduce recidivism.  The Senators recently introduced the Recidivism Reduction & Public Safety Act of 2013 (S. 1675), which would allow inmates to earn sentence-reduction credit for completing programming aimed at helping them re-enter society – potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal spending.  The legislation has already been listed on the Judiciary Committee’s markup agenda, in recognition of the important need to address the problem of ever-increasing prison costs.

During the last fiscal year, the costs of detaining federal inmates represented more than 30% of the Justice Department’s budget.  Since 2000, costs associated with federal prisons and detention have doubled.  As a result, funding for other important federal law enforcement priorities – from stopping cyber threats to providing services for victims of crime – has suffered.  The legislation builds on successful reforms implemented by states across the country that cut prison spending while reducing recidivism and better protecting the public.  A recent report from the Urban Institute estimated that several of the provisions in the bill could save the federal government at least $275 million over ten years, which could be spent on other law enforcement priorities.

“As a former state and federal prosecutor, I recognize that there are no easy solutions to overflowing prison populations and skyrocketing corrections spending,” said Whitehouse, a former U.S. Attorney and Attorney General for Rhode Island.  “But states like Rhode Island have shown that it is possible to cut prison costs while making the public safer.  Inmates better prepared to re-enter communities reduce the risk that they will commit more offenses when they are released.  This bipartisan bill would help us achieve those goals at the federal level, potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars and reducing the prison population.”

“This legislation builds on best practices from state and local governments developed through the Second Chance Act on how to reduce recidivism and provide drug treatment and mental health services to individuals in the federal corrections system,” said Portman.  “By reducing recidivism, we not only save taxpayer dollars, but also help people leave behind their past mistakes and become productive members of society.”

Among other provisions, the Recidivism Reduction & Public Safety Act would:

  • Require the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to offer evidence-based recidivism reduction programming based on each inmate’s assessed needs.  Under the bill, an inmate who successfully participates in a recidivism-reduction program could receive a credit toward his or her sentence of no more than 60 days per year of program participation, which could be awarded at the sole discretion of BOP.
  • Require BOP, for the first time, to develop a methodology to assess the recidivism risk and programmatic needs of each inmate who will be released back into the community.
  • Promote substance abuse treatment and recovery by requiring the collection of additional information about drug and alcohol abuse among federal inmates and ensuring that inmates who participate in BOP’s Residential Drug Abuse Program receive full credit for their participation.
  • Require more detailed reporting on rates of recidivism among former federal inmates.
  • Require a study on the impact of reentry on communities with a high number of ex-offenders.
  • Authorize a pilot program, modeled after the successful HOPE Program in Hawaii and similar programs in Kentucky and elsewhere, which requires intensive supervision for ex-offenders with a heightened risk of recidivism.

The Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the bill in December.


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921