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Most Second Chance Act Money Goes to Government Agencies

by Derek Gilna and Brandon Sample

When the Second Chance Act (SCA) was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, the legislation was intended to fund programs to help former prisoners find jobs, reintegrate into society and stay out of jail. Years later, however, it appears that most SCA grants are being funneled to government agencies rather than community organizations that provide reentry services for ex-offenders.

Rules promulgated by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and left undisturbed by Congress, give the DOJ authority to dole out SCA funds according to criteria established by the DOJ. Sadly, this is not an isolated practice but part of a decades-long trend in which Congress passes bills with broadly-brushed legislative goals, then leaves entrenched bureaucracies like the DOJ to fill in the details as they see fit.

In fiscal year 2011, SCA grants totaling $2.9 million were distributed to various non-profit community organizations for Adult Offender Mentoring. Some of the grants, which averaged $300,000 each, went to organizations that have tenuous connections with prisoner reentry – such as Goodwill Easter Seals in Miami Valley, Ohio and the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association. Another $3 million went to community groups for Promoting Successful Reentry Through Responsible Fatherhood/Motherhood grants.

However, most SCA funds went to government agencies rather than community-based organizations that actually provide reentry services. For example, about $12 million in Adult Offender Reentry Program Implementation grants went to city, county and state agencies, including Departments of Correction for Connecticut, Ohio, Minnesota and Missouri, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office in Massachusetts.

Approximately $5.2 million in SCA funding for Substance Abuse Treatment Programs went to county, tribal and state agencies, including the Indiana, Louisiana and New Jersey Departments of Correction, while $720,000 in grants for Adult Offender Reentry Program Planning were distributed to municipal, county and state agencies, including the Oxnard Police Department (California), the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office (New York) and the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

Another $8.9 million in SCA grants went to programs for Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders – all to counties and states, including the Pennsylvania, Iowa and Louisiana Departments of Correction, the Crime Prevention and Control Commission in Colorado, the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio and the San Joaquin County Probation Department in California.

Around $4 million in SCA grants funded Technology Careers Training Demonstration Projects for Incarcerated Adults and Juveniles; those funds all went to county and state agencies, including the Colorado Department of Corrections and Western Virginia Regional Jail Authority. Slightly over $1.3 million in SCA grants were for State, Local and Tribal Reentry Courts.

More than $5.4 million in SCA funding was disbursed by the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) for Juvenile Mentoring Initiatives. Most of those grants went to community-based organizations, including Boys and Girls Clubs and the Neighborhood First Program in Pennsylvania.

However, other SCA grants totaling $3.5 million distributed through the OJJDP went to county and state agencies, including the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections and New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, for implementation and planning of Reentry Program Demonstration Projects.

Thus, of the DOJ’s $46.9 million in 2011 SCA grant funding for both adult and juvenile offender reentry programs, around $11.3 million (25%) went to community organizations while $35.6 million (75%) went to government agencies.

Clearly, the bulk of SCA funding, which is intended to assist ex-prisoners upon their return to society, is not going to community-based groups that provide reentry services, such as operating halfway houses or providing job placement assistance. The relatively few grants to non-profits pale in comparison to SCA funding provided to government agencies, including, in many cases, Departments of Correction, sheriff’s offices, and even police departments and attorney general’s offices.

Sadly, the DOJ’s misplaced priorities when distributing SCA grants serve only to frustrate Congress’ intent to provide funding for reentry services for released prisoners. And Congress for its part shows no interest in correcting the situation.

Source: Bureau of Justice Assistance Grants for Fiscal Year 2011 (

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