Back in the 1970s and ’80s, high crime and “get tough” laws meant longer sentences and more emphasis on punishment than on rehabilitation, and the federal and state governments spent billions building prisons.
Today, as a legacy of those policies, not only are record numbers incarcerated, but also about 700,000 state and federal prisoners are released annually, many of them with little education or employment prospects and destined to be imprisoned again within a few years.
In a sharp change in attitudes about incarceration, many states and private groups have recently experimented with “re-entry” programs to help released prisoners fit back into their communities and avoid new crime.
The strategy will get a major boost this week. President Bush is to sign the Second Chance Act in a public ceremony on Wednesday, making rehabilitation a central goal of the federal justice system. In a sign of how far the pendulum has swung, the measure passed Congress with nearly unanimous bipartisan support.
With the new law, the federal government is to provide more money and leadership in a field where progress is likely to be difficult at best, experts agree.