|Carson: Keeping Communities Safe Means Stopping the 'Revolving Door' of Prison|
June 12, 2009
Barriers in current federal law mean returning ex-offenders have to wait several months after their release before being able to access disability and Medicaid benefits. Under
“Providing basic services and benefits for ex-offenders is vital to stopping the revolving door of prison,” said Congressman Carson, a former law enforcement officer.
“We have a choice as a society. We can continue to put our communities at risk by creating circumstances that increase the likelihood of former inmates committing crimes and returning to the system, or we can provide them with benefits and the initial tools they need to make a productive transition back into the community.”
There are as many as 300,000 mentally ill individuals in prisons and jails nationwide. A Bureau of Justice report found that 81 percent of inmates with mental illness in state prisons had been sentenced to prison or probation at least once prior to their current incarceration.
This sobering fact is one that a number of national organizations pointed to in an endorsement letter supporting the Recidivism Reduction Act of 2009. The letter, signed by groups like the American Correctional Association, the Correctional Education Association and the
“Arrests of [ex-offenders] are often directly linked to poverty and inadequate mental health treatment. Because federal entitlement programs . . . are often their main sources of income and health care support, these inmates require immediate restoration of their benefits when they are released in order to successfully reenter their community and access the health care that they depend upon.”
Along with the public safety benefits, Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson believes taxpayers understand that it costs much less to fund services that stop the revolving door into the criminal justice system than it does to incarcerate individuals, especially those who spend multiple stents in jail or prison.
“As an elected sheriff, I have the duty of keeping our neighborhoods safe while reducing the strain on taxpayers, especially in these tough economic times,” Sheriff Anderson said. “The best way to accomplish both is investing on the front end to reduce recidivism, and that’s exactly what Congressman Carson’s common-sense bill would do.”
The Recidivism Reduction Act of 2009 does not grant ex-offenders with new benefits; rather, it removes federal barriers to ensure that individuals promptly receive the benefits they are entitled to in order to break the cycle of recidivism.
More on the Recidivism Reduction Act of 2009
Under current federal law, incarcerated individuals have their entitlement benefits, including Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, and Medicaid, either suspended or terminated while serving their time. The Recidivism Reduction Act of 2009 outlines the following changes to federal law to ensure that ex-offenders have immediate access upon their release to entitlement benefits:
· Provisional benefits for previously eligible returning ex-offenders would be re-established on the day of their release from prison. The Social Security Administration would review all factors to ensure eligibility.
· Medicaid for eligible ex-offenders would be reinstated immediately upon release; and states, with guidance from Secretary of Health and Human Services and an increase federal matching dollars, would update their tracking systems to allow for the suspension, rather than the termination, of Medicaid for incarcerated individuals, helping to streamline the reinstatement process in the future.
· Case management services for incarcerated individuals would be extended to begin planning for the reentry process well in advance of the planned release of the ex-offender.
“This bill is not about increasing or expanding benefits for ex-offenders,” Congressman Carson said. “It simply streamlines our system so that eligible individuals can access their benefits more quickly—which will in turn reduce recidivism and make our communities safer.”
The Recidivism Reduction Act has been endorsed by the following: Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson, American Correctional Association, the American Jail Association, the Correctional Education Association, the American Bar Association, the Sentencing Project, the National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness, American Humanist Association, the Fortune Society, the American Psychiatric Association, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Mental Health America and the Haymarket Center.
The following Members of Congress have also signed on as original cosponsors: Danny Davis, Kennedy, Stark, Holmes Norton, Bobby L. Rush, Gutiérrez, Jackson Lee, John Lewis, Al Green, Barbara Lee, Fudge, Donna Edwards, Gregory Meeks
TAX ASSISTANCE INFORMATION