On October 30, 2004, the President signed into law S. 1194, the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2003. The Act was introduced by Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) and represents a good beginning towards ensuring that mentally ill offenders receive the treatment they need in order to successfully re-enter society. S. 1194 authorizes grants that will be awarded to eligible States, local governments, and organizations in order to plan and implement programs that: (1) ensure access to mental health and other treatment services for mentally ill adults or juveniles; and (2) are overseen cooperatively by a criminal justice agency, juvenile justice agency, or mental health court and a mental health agency (collaboration programs). This was an important victory for criminal justice reform advocates. The efforts of many groups including the Catholic community are to be credited for its passage.
On October 12, 2004, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing on bill called the Second Chance Act of 2004. The Act was introduced by a bi-partisan group of Representatives during the summer and attempted to address some of the many issues facing the nearly 650,000 people released from jails and prisons nationwide each year. The main areas of focus within the bill were jobs, housing, substance abuse and mental health treatment, and strengthening families. While the Subcommittee did not attempt to vote on the legislation, the end of the year Hearing gave voice to the concerns surrounding re-entry issues and will hopefully give momentum for legislative action in this Congress. The original co-sponsors of the Second Chance Act [Representatives Rob Portman (R-OH) and Danny Davis (D-IL), and Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Joseph Biden (D-DE)] plan to re-introduce the bill this month. USCCB and CCUSA staff are meeting with co-sponsors staff to share our priorities on criminal justice reform. On July 12, 2004, Cardinal McCarrick, Chairman of the Domestic Policy Committee wrote to members of the House urging their support of the Second Chance Act.
In the 2000 criminal justice statement, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, the bishops called for the redirection of public resources towards more effective programs designed to rehabilitate and reintegrate ex-offenders back into society. We call upon government to redirect the vast amount of public resources away from building more and more prisons and toward better and more effective programs aimed at crime prevention, rehabilitation, education efforts, substance abuse treatment, and programs of probation, parole, and reintegration.
Cardinal McCarrick, in his On July 12, 2004, letter said, As a Church, we actively support the communitys right to establish and enforce laws that protect people and advance the common good. However, our faith teaches us that both victims and offenders are children of God so we call for justice not vengeance. Justice, therefore, demands that punishment must have two clear purposes: protecting society and rehabilitating those who violate the laws.
What You Can Do
During his State of the Union Address in 2004, the President stated that helping ex-offenders successfully re-enter society had to be a priority for our society. Please call your Senators and Representative and ask them to support the Second Chance Act so that we can reduce recidivism by helping men and women successfully reintegrate into their communities. Call the Capitol switchboard, (202) 224-3121.
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