Proposed National Law Aims to Reduce Recidivism

WASHINGTON — A bill introduced by two senators aims to cut government spending by requiring lower-risk prisoners to participate in recidivism reduction programs.

Under the Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction and Eliminating Costs for Taxpayers in Our National System (CORRECTIONS) Act, introduced by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, prisoners in the program would be able to earn up to 25 percent of their sentence in pre-release custody. The pre-release program, an effort used in both Texas and Rhode Island, helps to prepare offenders for transition to communities by using motivational interviewing techniques, such as asking inmates if they have been thinking about what choices led to their incarceration. A similar version of the bill passed the senate judiciary committee with a 15-2 vote during the last congress season.

“Texas has been a national leader for prison reform, finding ways to partner with faith-based and community organizations to ensure prisoners can change their lives instead of becoming career criminals,” said Sen. Cornyn in a statement. “We can improve our criminal justice system, save money and make our communities safer all at the same time. I am hopeful congress will follow our state’s lead in this important area.”

The CORRECTIONS Act has several provisions that it will enforce. The legislation requires all eligible offenders to undergo regular risk assessments to determine whether an offender has a low, medium or high risk of re-offending. It excludes all sex offenders, terrorism offenders, violent offenders, repeat offenders, major organized crime offenders and major fraud offenders from earning credits under the program.

The law also encourages participation in recidivism reduction programs and productive activities such as prison jobs. The bill contains no new authorized spending and requires the Bureau of Prisons to partner with faith-based groups and nonprofits.

Additionally, the law allows earned time credits for low-risk prisoners up to 10 days for every 30 days that the prisoner is successfully completing a reoffender reduction program or productive activity. It allows medium-risk prisoners to earn a five-day or 30-day time credit while successfully completing recidivism reduction programs and productive activities. These offenders would only be able to use these credits if they demonstrate a substantial reduction in their probability of reoffending as a result of participation in programs. The CORRECTIONS Act does not allow high-risk offenders to use any time credits unless they reduce their risk levels to a lower tier.

Finally, the act would allow certain low-risk offenders who demonstrate exemplary behavior to spend the final portion of their earned credit time on community supervision.

“As a former state and federal prosecutor, I recognize that there are no easy solutions to overflowing prison populations and skyrocketing corrections spending,” said Sen. 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. Our bill is built on the simple premise that when inmates are better prepared to re-enter communities, they are less likely to commit crimes after they are released — and that is in all of our interests.”