Literacy, Education, and Rehabilitation Act sign now

Dear Representatives of the People:

We, the undersigned, ask for your support of H.R. 4752 (the Literacy, Education, and Rehabilitation Act) in Congress, introduced by Representative Bobby Scott (D-Virginia 3rd). This bill would amend title 18, United States Code, to award credit toward the service of a sentence to prisoners who participate in designated educational, vocational, treatment, assigned work, or other developmental programs, and for other purposes.

We must ask ourselves how we expect our economy to survive when we continue to incarcerate larger numbers of nonviolent, first-time offenders, who pose no public safety risk. Cost per prisoner to incarcerate in a federal prison is approximately $28,000 with geriatric prisoners (55 years and older) costing as much as $80,000 per year. Yet, the cost of community supervision or drug court supervision is in the area of $3,000 to $5,000 per year.

The cost of incarceration is just the tip of the iceberg. For every nonviolent offender (approximately 84\% of the Bureau of Prisons population), who could otherwise be gainfully employed under an alternative sentence, we not only lose tax revenues and add entire families to the list of those receiving public assistance, but we shift the dollars being spent from local and small businesses to those large industries handling the federal contracts. In addition, we create an even larger group of children more at risk to incarceration themselves.

Statistics show that as many as 70\% of those incarcerated had a parent incarcerated before them. The overall negative economic impact is just as staggering as the destructive effect on families and communities.

This is not just a serious moral issue, but a potentially disastrous financial position as well. It is time to think about how to be Smart on Crime rather than just Tough of Crime.

Recent findings incorporated into proposed legislation introduced by Congressman Portman supported by President Bush reflect that:

In 2002, 2,000,000 people were incarcerated in Federal or State prisons or in local jails. Nearly 650,000 people are released from incarceration to communities nationwide each year.

There are over 3,200 jails throughout the United States, the vast majority of which are operated by county governments. Each year, these jails will release in excess of 10,000,000 people back into the community.

Nearly two-thirds of released State prisoners are expected to be rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within three years after release.

In his 2004 State of the Union address, President Bush correctly stated: `We know from long experience that if [former prisoners] can't find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit more crimes and return to prison. . . . America is the land of the second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.'

Successful reentry protects those who might otherwise be crime victims. It also improves the likelihood that individuals released from prison or juvenile detention facilities can pay fines, fees, restitution, and family support.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, expenditures on corrections alone increased from $9,000,000,000 in 1982 to $44,000,000,000 in 1997. These figures do not include the cost of arrest and prosecution, nor do they take into account the cost to victims.

Increased recidivism results in profound collateral consequences, including public health risks, homelessness, unemployment, and disenfranchisement.

One of the most significant costs of prisoner reentry is the impact on children, the weakened ties among family members, and destabilized communities. The long-term generational effects of a social structure in which imprisonment is the norm and law-abiding role models are absent are difficult to measure but undoubtedly exist.

According to the 2001 national data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 3,500,000 parents were supervised by the correctional system. Prior to incarceration, 64 percent of female prisoners and 44 percent of male prisoners in State facilities lived with their children.

Between 1991 and 1999, the number of children with a parent in a Federal or State correctional facility increased by more than 100 percent, from approximately 900,000 to approximately 2,000,000. According to the Bureau of Prisons, there is evidence to suggest that inmates who are connected to their children and families are more likely to avoid negative incidents and have reduced sentences.

The National Institute of Justice has found that after one year of release, up to 60 percent of former inmates are not employed.

According to the National Institute of Literacy, 70 percent of all prisoners function at the two lowest literacy levels.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that 27 percent of Federal inmates, 40 percent of State inmates, and 47 percent of local jail inmates have never completed high school or its equivalent. Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that less educated inmates are more likely to be recidivists. Only 1 in 4 local jails offer basic adult education programs.

Participation in State correctional education programs lowers the likelihood of reincarceration by 29 percent, according to a recent United States Department of Education study. A Federal Bureau of Prisons study found a 33 percent drop in recidivism among federal prisoners who participated in vocational and apprenticeship training.

Last month the American Bar Association issued their findings after conducting extensive research and hearings surrounding todays sentencing guidelines. In federal prison alone we have over 179,000 men and women incarcerated of which 85\% are first time, nonviolent offenders. The ABA recommended: The resolution urges states, territories and the federal government to ensure that sentencing systems provide appropriate punishment without over-reliance on incarceration. Lengthy periods of incarceration should be reserved for offenders who pose the greatest danger to the community and who commit the most serious offenses. Alternatives to incarceration should be provided when offenders pose minimal risk to the community and appear likely to benefit from rehabilitation efforts.

Further, events during June 21-25, have the potential to affect the lives of many of the 176,000 men and women who are incarcerated in federal prisons:

The Second Chance Act was introduced by a bipartisan group of members of the House of Representatives. Provisions of the bill will offer a number of opportunities to prisoners following their release.

The decision (Blakely v. Washington) of the Supreme Court threatens the very existence of the federal sentencing guidelines.

U.S. District Judge William Young called the government's sentencing guidelines unconstitutional. This has been reiterated by several district court judges since the Blakely deicision; and

H.R. 4752 (Literacy, Educational, and Rehabilitation Act of 2004) was introduced in the House. LERA calls for awards of good time to prisoners who are progressing with preparations to lead productive lives.

The federal prison population has increased more than 7-fold over the past 20 years. In 1984, the population was about 25,000 prisoners. Today, there are more than 175,000 prisoners, and the population is growing. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the primary reasons for this tremendous growth have been longer sentences resulting from the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act and mandatory minimum sentences. The Sentencing Reform Act established determinate sentencing, abolished parole, and dramatically reduced good time credits. Other sentencing policy by Congressional or administrative action has increasingly limited the discretion of judges and prison officials to impact sentence lengths or confinement options.

During the same period, the annual number of prisoners returning to communities has also increased several fold. Currently, about 40,000 prisoners leave federal prisons each year. The question is whether they leave prison better prepared to lead law-abiding lives, or in a worse position to do so. The addition of a felony record and a federal prison stay is not, in and of itself, likely to add to a person's job or social development prospects.

Unfortunately, the elimination of incentives such as parole, good time credits and funding for college courses, means that fewer inmates participate in and excel in literacy, education, treatment and other development programs. LERA provides incentives and recognitions for achievement by giving the BOP Director the discretion to grant up to 60 sentence credit days per year to an inmate for successful participation in literacy, education, work training, treatment and other development programs. LERA will not only prevent crime victimizations, but also save taxpayers money. Many sentences are excessively long because mandatory sentencing policies do not allow sentencing judges the discretion to distinguish between hardened criminals and those amenable to rehabilitation and preparation for successful re-entry. LERA allows offenders to distinguish themselves.

The Literacy, Education, and Rehabilitation Act (LERA), H.R. 4752, would address all these issues by increasing educational and program requirements and providing valid incentives for participation as well as success. The proposed legislation would provide a cost effective means of providing these increased programs by utilizing the current pool of incarcerated individuals who can teach, doing so by providing credit towards their sentence rather than financial rewards. In addition, money would be saved through a decrease in the length of incarceration as well as the rate of recidivism. This adds up to healthier families, increased public safety, and a stronger economy.

With all this in mind, we ask you to support the upcoming LERA legislation.

Thank you for your consideration.

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Corina BoyleBy:
Transport and infrastructureIn:
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U.S. Congress

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