- Report Published -
|Senate Document No. 9|
PUBLICATION YEAR 2006
|Commonwealth's Program for Prisoner Reentry to Society|
|SJR 273 (Regular Session, 2005)|
|Joint Subcommittee Studying the Commonwealth's Program for Prisoner Reentry to Society|
January 10, 2006
The process of leaving prison and returning to society or "prisoner reentry" has become a significant challenge in Virginia and nationally. President Bush, in his State of the Union message in January 2004, 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 second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life." In 2003, Virginia was selected to participate in the National Governor's Association Policy Academy on Prisoner Reentry ("Policy Academy"). Senate Joint Resolution 273 (Puller) was established to "continue the work of the Policy Academy in identifying and developing strategies to address key needs and overcome barriers for offenders, prior to and upon leaving prison, to reduce the incidence of reincarceration and increase their successful social adaptation and integration into their communities."
The joint subcommittee consists of six General Assembly members, Senators Linda T. Puller (chair) and William C. Mims and Delegates John J. Welch (vice chair), Robert B. Bell, Bradley P. Marrs, and Rosalyn R. Dance; two citizen members, Mark Earley and Lisa Thomas; and six ex-officio members, John W. Marshall, Secretary of Public Safety, Gene M. Johnson, Director of the Department of Corrections (DOC), Walter A. McFarlane, Superintendent of the Department of Correctional Education, James S. Reinhard, M.D., Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services, Anthony Conyers, Jr., Commissioner of the Department of Social Services (DSS), and Dolores A. Esser, Commissioner of the Virginia Employment Commission. Information about the activities of the joint subcommittee is available at its web site: http://dls.state.va.us/reentry.htm.
At its first meeting the joint subcommittee received a great deal of information about Virginia's approach to prisoner reentry as a result of its involvement in the Policy Academy. According to Barry Green, Director, Department of Juvenile Justice, a Policy Academy workgroup, which has been working since 2003, sought to:
• Identify prisoner needs that require attention during the period of incarceration,
• Establish an inventory of programs designed to address those needs,
• Review how the transition from prison environment and control to community life is managed prior to release,
• Review how transition is managed upon release,
• Identify programs to manage issues that arise after release, and
• Identify what can be done to improve outcomes after transition.
The joint subcommittee subsequently heard presentations on the key needs for successful reentry: stable employment, stable housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and family reintegration and support. The joint subcommittee specifically requested presentations on the therapeutic community programs run by the DOC, federal faith-based initiatives relating to offenders, and mentoring programs for prisoners who are transitioning back into communities.
At its fourth meeting the subcommittee considered a compilation of recommendations that had been made to it and determined which recommendations to endorse and which were not feasible to pursue. It recommended a number of budget and legislative priorities, which were formally voted on at the fifth meeting, held on January 10, 2006, after reviewing funding contained in the Governor's budget. At that meeting, the joint subcommittee endorsed the following budget recommendations:
1. Budget amendment to give $300,000 in FY07 and $300,000 in FY08 to DSS for the Virginia Reentry Pilot Program to fund five pilot programs for ex-offenders returning to the community with mentors recruited from community and faith-based organizations.
DSS shall establish as part of the Virginia Reentry Project during both Phases II and III a community-based program in the pilot jurisdictions linking mentors with offenders to help them make the transition from prison to the community safely and successfully. To respect individual inmates’ faith perspectives, inmates will have the option of participating in a mentoring program of their own faith, or participating in a secular mentoring program. If there are no mentors of an inmates’ faith available, the inmate may participate in the secular program. While the inmates are still incarcerated, the mentors can help them develop a life plan, think through employment options, and teach them what employers will expect of them on the job. After release, the mentors can teach them how to keep track of bills and pay them on time, obtain necessary identification, and hold them accountable for their obligations at work and their meetings with their parole officer. The mentoring relationship should include the inmate’s family to the greatest extent possible, unless there are safety issues involved.
2. Budget language to require an annual report by November 1 of each year from the Secretary of Public Safety on the status of reentry programs, pursuant to his responsibilities under §2.2-221.1 of the Code.
3. A budget amendment ($1.1 million per year) for DOC to create 2 new Community Day Reporting Centers to provide an alternative to probation officers and judges for offenders who violate the rules of probation or parole, but do not present a risk to public safety that requires incarceration.
4. Budget language directing DSS's Office of Community Partnerships & Virginia Faith-Based & Community Liaison to maximize federal funding currently available or that will become available through the federal Second Chance Act of 2005 for faith-based and community organizations to partner with public agencies to provide prisoner reentry services.
5. A budget amendment ($3.3 million in FY07; $6.7 million in FY08) to give funding to DOC for Community Corrections for mental health treatment services for those requiring mental health services after release from prison (as well as to prevent those on probation from reoffending).
6. A budget amendment ($519,000 in FY07; $974,000 in FY08) to add 5 jails per year through which offenders would return to their communities for reintegration services 90 days prior to release from incarceration.
The joint subcommittee endorsed the following legislative initiatives:
1. Legislation directing the Department of Housing and Community Development, in consultation with the Virginia Housing Development Authority, to develop a strategy for the development and implementation of housing programs and community development in the Commonwealth for the purpose of meeting the needs of formerly incarcerated persons being released from federal, state, and local correctional facilities into communities.
2. Legislation directing the Director of DOC to arrange for all offenders committed to the custody of DOC to receive the following documents upon their release from custody: a synopsis of the individual's medical records while in custody; any pertinent medical records necessary for the individual's continued medical treatment upon his release, including copies of the individual's current medication prescriptions; a physician's summary for any individual receiving medical treatment or documented as in need of pending treatment at the time of his release; verification of the individual's work history while in custody; and verification of all education and treatment programs completed by the individual while in custody. DOC shall be responsible for designating employees to insure that these documents are obtained and stored in the individual's institutional file until the time of such person's release from custody.
3. Legislation allowing DOC to give nonviolent prisoners who have not been sentenced upon a conviction of murder in the first degree, rape in violation of § 18.2-61, forcible sodomy, animate or inanimate object sexual penetration or aggravated sexual battery or sentenced to life imprisonment the opportunity to participate in a residential community program, work release, or a community-based program. Current law requires that the prisoner not be convicted of any violent crime and be sentenced to at least three years. The bill also restricts the cost of a prisoner's keep to up to 30 percent of gross earnings.
4. Legislation directing the Secretary of Health and Human Resources, in consultation with the Secretary of Public Safety, to establish an integrated system for coordinating the planning and provision of services for children with incarcerated parents among and between state, local, and nonprofit agencies in order to provide such children with services needed to continue parental relationships with the incarcerated parent, where appropriate, and encourage healthy relationships in the family and community. All funds used shall be leveraged to the fullest extent possible and direct services shall be provided in the most cost effective means possible, including through agreements with local nonprofit organizations.
5. A joint resolution continuing the study for another year to follow up on items introduced or funded in this budget cycle. The joint subcommittee membership would be increased by adding the Attorney General of Virginia or his designee.
A final report concerning the joint subcommittee's activities and recommendations will be submitted at a later date as Senate Document No. 9.
[This study has been continued until the 2008 Session. See SJR 327 and HJR 652 (2007).]