U.S. Senate passed The Second Chance Act March 11, legislation that’s designed to assist former inmates reenter society.

The Second Chance Act, which passed in the House last November, authorizes $362 million to state and local governments and non-profit, ex-offender organizations.

The bill provides funding for job training, substance abuse treatment, housing, mentoring and other services. The legislation was introduced more than six years ago by Cong. Danny K. Davis (7th). It passed in the U.S. House by a bi-partisan vote of 347-62 last November. It now awaits the signature of President George Bush before.

The U.S. Justice Department estimates that roughly 700,000 people are released annually from state and federal prisons.

According to the most recent study of prisoner reentry in Illinois by Washington-based Urban Institute, more than half, 54 percent, of male inmates released in the state return to 7 of Chicago’s 77 communities, most of which are on the West Side. Austin, according to the institute’s 2005 study, A Portrait of Prisoner Reentry in Illinois, received the most former inmates.

The study, which also profiled 400 male inmates averaging 34 years in age, also revealed that 46 percent of respondents had a drug offense as their most serious charge, and that 66 percent of respondents reported some drug use prior to entering prison.

The legislation, supporters say, will help state and local governments, and community-based organizations, better serve this population.

Tumia Romero, a legislative advisor to Davis, called the law historical, adding that it will make a huge impact on the lives of former inmates and on the community.

The senate version of the bill, however, modified the earlier house version. The senate bill, for instance, scales back an early release pilot program for non-violent, elderly prisoners over the age of 65 who has served 75 percent of the time.

It also limits the costs for reentry programs on the federal government by looking for alternative funding sources.

Prior to the bill’s passage in the senate, Davis looked at the legislation in almost biblical terms, noting that most major religions speak about a “resurrection” and “redemption.” He explained that this is how lawmakers should view ex-offenders in helping them reenter society and rebuild their lives.

“The Second Chance Act is a good first step that will provide much needed resources, and an approach to better understanding what works to increase public safety, reduce crime, and lower the recidivism rate,” Davis said. “We are a country that preaches redemption in our churches, synagogues, and mosques. That we can practice what we have preached is what we want to show with this measure.”