First passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2008, the Second Chance Act was designed to help people successfully return to their communities from prisons, jails and juvenile retention centers, with an emphasis on substance abuse treatment. This first-of-its-kind legislation provided funding through federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Since the law’s passage, 250 grants have been awarded in nearly every state–providing substance abuse treatment, employment and mentoring services to improve the transition from incarceration to living on the outside. Unfortunately in September, the Senate Appropriations Committee eliminated all funding for the Second Chance Act in their version of the 2012 bill for the Department of Justice. In contrast, the House Appropriations Committee provided $70 million for the bill.

The Second Chance Act includes funding for several programs that directly affect individuals who suffer from the disease of addiction and their families: The Family-Based Offender Substance Abuse Treatment Program provides resources to implement or expand substance abuse treatment programs for re-entering offenders who have substance abuse disorders and for offenders who are parents of minor children. The grant specifically provides support to the offender, his or her children and family members. The Reentry Program for Adult Offenders with Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders was established to develop or enhance residential substance abuse treatment programs in correctional facilities and to include aftercare and recovery supportive services. The Juvenile Mentoring Grant was designed to provide substance abuse treatment, employment assistance, housing and other services to help juvenile ex-offenders to transition successfully from incarceration to the community.

Originally funded at $100 million in 2010, the Second Chance Act was reduced to $83 million in 2011. Although no funding for Second Chance was included in the Senate bill, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy pledged to work to restore funding when the House and Senate Appropriations Committees attempt to resolve differences between the two spending bills. Members of Congress need to hear from concerned addiction professionals and everyday people about the importance of Second Chance Act funding. As I write this, the bill is still up for debate. I hope efforts by citizens writing, calling and e-mailing Congress will ensure that the Second Chance Act is funded in 2012. At least I know I’ve done my part to help the bill along.

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