Washington, D.C. – With prison costs continuing to skyrocket and prison populations overflowing, legislation authored by U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan vote of 15-2.  The Senators issued the following statements after the vote:

“This legislation builds on best practices from state and local governments developed through the Second Chance Act on how to reduce recidivism and provide drug treatment and mental health services to individuals in the federal corrections system,” said Portman.  “By reducing recidivism, we not only save taxpayer dollars, but also help people leave behind their past mistakes and become productive members of society. Today’s passage out of committee is an encouraging step in the right direction, and I urge swift action by the full Senate to get this commonsense legislation over the finish line.”

“As a former state and federal prosecutor, I recognize that there are no easy solutions to overflowing prison populations and skyrocketing corrections spending,” said 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.  When inmates are better prepared to re-enter communities, they are less likely to commit crimes after they are released.” 

During the last fiscal year, the costs of detaining federal inmates represented more than 30% of the Justice Department’s budget.  Since 2000, costs associated with federal prisons and detention have doubled.  As a result, funding for other important federal law enforcement priorities – from stopping cyber threats to providing services for victims of crime – has suffered.

The Portman-Whitehouse legislation combines elements of S. 1783, the Federal Prison Reform Act, introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), along with Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).  It would address this growing problem by building on reforms that have proven successful at the state level. 

Among other provisions, this legislation:

•       Requires all eligible offenders to undergo regular risk assessments to determine whether an offender has a low, medium, or high-risk of recidivism.
•       Excludes all sex offenders, terrorism offenders, violent offenders, repeat offenders, major organized crime offenders, and major fraud offenders from participation in the program.
•       Encourages participation in recidivism reduction programs and productive activities, like prison jobs.
•       Contains no new authorized spending, and requires the mandated recidivism reduction programs to be provided by faith-based groups, non-profits, or through savings generated by the legislation.
•       Allows earned time credits for low-risk prisoners of up to 10 days for every 30 days that the prisoner is successfully completing a recidivism reduction program or productive activity.
•       Allows medium risk prisoners to earn a 5 day for 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 recidivism as a result of participation in programs.
•       Does not allow high risk offenders to use any time credits unless they reduce their risk levels to a lower tier. 
•       Would allow certain low risk offenders who demonstrate exemplary behavior to spend the final portion of their earned credit time on community supervision.