Bush Signs Legislation Meant To Help Ex-Cons Stay Out Of Jail

Jail is hardly smooth sailing. But the nation's high level of recidivism shows that most inmates find integrating back into the community just as tough.

That could soon start changing with a measure President Bush signed into law today. Known as the Second Chance Act, the bill provides $330 million in federal funding for an array of programs--from employment services to housing to substance-abuse treatment--aimed at helping prisoners re-enter the community successfully.

With such a major boost in funding, drafters hope the legislation will kick-start more activity on a state and local level and ultimately reshape the conversation on prisons toward re-entry programs. The bill includes $115 million in competitive grants to state and local government as well as private groups to develop comprehensive re-entry programs. It includes an additional $55 million in state and local grants to implement best practices for re-entry programs. There's also money for a pilot program to help nonviolent elderly inmates get out of jail.

The scope of the legislation is significant but so is the coalition behind it. The broad base of political support reaches across ideological lines and is reflected in the measure's sponsors, who range from Democratic Sens. Joseph Biden (Delaware) and Patrick Leahy (Vermont) to Republican Sens. Sam Brownback (Kansas) and Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania).

"The enthusiasm about it is just so high," says Jessica Nickel, director of government affairs for the Council of State Governments. "It's been a true left-right coalition."

By Emma Schwartz