President Bush signed the Second Chance Act Wednesday to fund programs that can help inmates become productive citizens when they come out of prison.
The legislation, which was passed unanimously in the Senate, aims to reduce recidivism and increase public safety. It authorizes $362 million to improve the way U.S. prisons prepare inmates when they reenter society.
"These grants allow churches and community groups to recruit, train and match returning inmates with mentors," said Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship. "Prison Fellowship knows – from 30 years of outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families – that pairing returning inmates with loving mentors from local churches is the best way to help them stay on the straight and narrow."
Prison Fellowship has worked on this legislation for four years as part of a diverse coalition of religious, civil rights and law enforcement groups.
Some of the most effective mentoring programs are run by churches and other faith-based groups that can now apply for federal grants, Bush said, according to The Associated Press.
Bush visited a faith-based program called the Jericho Program – which is helping former prisoners make a successful transition back to society – earlier this year in Baltimore, Md., where he met Thomas Boyd.
The 53-year-old had spent more than 20 years of his life using drugs and going back and forth to jail, Bush said.
"He (Boyd) remembers the day when his daughter sat down, looked him in the eye and said, 'Daddy, I think it's time you start doing something with your life,'" Bush recounted on Wednesday. "He took his daughter's advice. He sought out the Jericho reentry program."
When he visited the program, Bush reminded them that he was "a product of a faith-based program."
"I quit drinking and it wasn't because of a government program. It required a little more powerful force than a government program in my case," he commented.
Some 700,000 inmates will be released from prison this year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. But with little being done to prepare them to lead productive lives, more than half end up back in prison within three years, Prison Fellowship vice president Pat Nolan noted.
The Second Chance Act encourages community and faith-based organizations to deliver mentoring and transitional services; connects former inmates to mental health and substance abuse treatment programs; expands job training and placement services; and facilitates transitional housing and case management services.