Second Chance Month

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By Nora Leonard, CJJ Intern 


On any given day, millions of Americans are incarcerated in prisons and jails around the country. Around 25,000 of these individuals are under 21 and are held in some type of juvenile or adult residential lockup. Almost all of these incarcerated people will eventually be released back into their communities. The process of releasing people from incarceration and reintegrating them into their communities is known as reentry

Reentry can take on one of three forms:

  1. A portion of newly released people receive formal supervision and support through probation or parole. These people are required to meet a court-imposed list of conditions as they transition from incarceration back into society.
  2. Others voluntarily participate in programs that provide them with vital community-based and government services during their community reentry. 
  3. Unfortunately, the remainder of the people transitioning back into their communities are released without any support.

The right services and programs are effective in reducing the number of young people who come back into contact with the youth justice system and ensuring that recently incarcerated individuals can become successful and contributing members of their communities. Research shows that the reentry experience can be improved by implementing programs that aid people in finding housing, gaining employment, developing skills, building social networks, and provide healthcare and mentorship. Other research shows that the keys to successful reentry include: positive community relationships, meaningful employment, housing, education, and the ability to overcome substance abuse or mental health issues.

Recently incarcerated youth and young adults face many unique challenges that impact their reentry. OJJDP has identified four specific needs of young people as they reenter their communities: mental health and substance abuse treatment, family engagement, education and employment programs, and housing. A study involving incarcerated youth found that half (51%) of those young people met the criteria to be diagnosed with one or more psychiatric disorders. For 34% of youth, at least one of those disorders was substance abuse disorder. Another important aspect of youth reentry is family engagement, as these children and young adults have spent a lot of time away from home. Education and employment is also an issue faced during reentry. One study polled youth 6 months after release; researchers found that less than half of those young people were employed or enrolled in school. The final specific need identified by OJJDP is housing. Nearly 25% of youth or young adults with involvement in the juvenile justice system have experienced homelessness. To support successful reentry, programs need to target each of these needs for youth returning to their communities.

Second Chance Act

In 2008, Congress passed the Second Chance Act, which authorized appropriations of up to $165 million in grant funding for nonprofit organizations and government agencies to support reentry programs. The Act is indicative of the federal movement to improve public safety and reduce the financial burden of program implementation for state and local governments.

Since then, agencies and organizations in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories have received grants to serve over 164,000 people through employment training and assistance, education, housing, family support, mentoring, victims support, and substance abuse treatment programs. 

Second Chance Month

In 2017, Prison Fellowship observed the inaugural Second Chance Month to raise recognition for the importance of supporting effective reentry services and programs for people returning to their communities. Second Chance Month was formally recognized by the White House the following year, in 2018. Since then, Second Chance Month has gained traction as an opportunity to highlight opportunities for governments and community-based services to provide second chances for those returning from prisons and jails. 

At the beginning of last year’s Second Chance Month, President Biden released a statement where he said, “America is a Nation of second chances, and it is critical that our criminal and juvenile justice systems provide meaningful opportunities for rehabilitation and redemption.” Upon discharge from incarceration, a person has already paid their debt to society. Second Chance Month and reentry services ensure that individuals have a fair chance to reintegrate into society. 

This Second Chance Month, as well as every month, we urge Congress to fund programs that are needed to address the unique needs of young people as they reenter their communities. 

Helpful Resources:

Below are links to webinars and other materials relevant to Second Chance Month.