tv U.S. Senate Sens. Portman Kyl on Criminal Justice CSPAN December 19, 2018 4:42am-5:02am EST
where rehabilitation takes place and hopefully people can take advantage of the opportunity once they've made a mistake and served their time to transform their own lives into productive citizens. that's what this legislation tries to do and that's why it's gained such broad support on both sides of the aisle. by investing in these education and training programs, these recidivism reduction programs, we can ensure that people who get out of prison, more of them will actually stay out of prison. this bill is our opportunity to make meaningful changes in our criminal justice system. our opportunity to begin fixing a problem that plagues our country and our opportunity to take a model that's been working in the states for more than a decade and use it to benefit all americans. the odds of these individuals leaving prison and becoming more productive members of society
should be higher than the odds of a coin flip. i'm proud to be a cosponsor of this legislation and i look forward to voting yes when it comes upficer: the senator from ohio. mr. portman: i want to talk today about the criminal justice reform legislation that's before the senate. this is legislation that deals with two huge issues in our criminal justice system. one is important sentencing reforms. a lot of this has leveled the playing field, for instance, between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, what kind of sentencing ought to be used, something talked about for many years. there is, in our view, many of us, an injustice with the levels of sentencing. that's important. second, this legislation deals with an issue that many states are finally figuring out, which is that we need to do something to keep people who are leaving our jails and prisons from coming right back into the criminal justice system again. these numbers are just amazing. 95% of those who are
incarcerated will be released someday. we all know that. 95% of them. when people are released from prison or jail, over a three-year period, about two-thirds of them are rearrested. some call it the revolving door. there's a fancier word for it. it's called recidivism, and it's a huge issue. because think about that. if two-thirds of the people are back in the prison system or the criminal justice system, that means they committed another crime. that means our communities are less safe. it also means that the taxpayer ends up picking up the tab, both the cost of prosecution again but also the cost of incarceration which can go from $25,000 a year to $40,000 a year, depending on what system these prisoners are in. huge costs. and many of our states, frankly, this is what has driven the push toward doing something about it because the state budgets have been overwhelmed with the cost of criminal justice. so we've committed ourselves here in congress to deal with
that, to try to reduce the crimes, bring families back together, help people be able to live out their purpose in life and god post office purpose in life for -- god's purpose in life for all of us may be a little different but it's certainly not for someone to be in the revolving door of the criminal justice system. one thing we have focused on is how do you give people the tools to be able to be more successful when they have left prison and reentered society. i've worked on this for the past 15 years, and one thing that we came up with was legislation called the second chance act. the second chance act was put into law about 11 years ago. it is a, an idea actually that george w. bush talked about in his speech to congress, joint session of congress about 14, 15 years ago. and what he said was let's give people a second chance. we believe in redemption in this country. many of us believe in it as it is from its biblical roots. but it is something that george w. bush believed in.
and then he also said, and it makes no sense because people are costing the communities more, more crime, costing taxpayers more, prosecution, incarceration. so let's do something about it. not hold people back because of their mistakes in the past but instead give them the tools to be able to lead a better life, a more productive life. the second chance act has worked well over the years. it's provided this on ramp to help ex-offenders reenter society appropriately. however it needs to be reauthorized. the criminal justice the reformn before us deals with this people of -- by giving them tools they need by drug treatment, jobs, and that's important. once they get out of the system that's where the second chance act is so important. the message is clear. it tells ex-offenders if you want to turn your life around and become a productive member of society we want to help you do that. rather than incarcerating these repeat offenders, sometimes
generation after generation, let's put our tax dollars to use in a more efnggettive way to break -- effective way to break this vicious cycle. congress appropriated funding for the second chance programs this year at $85 million, up from $68 million in some years in the past. we're actually putting more funding against it. but the program needs to be reauthorized to improve the program, put more accountability measures into the program. and that's what it does. again, it's part of this broader criminal justice reform that we are voting on today. i have spent a lot of time going around my state of ohio seeing how these second chance act grants are working. one thing they have done in my state and probably in your state is they have created these reentry coalitions now, because to get a coalition grant, it's easier to have a reentry coalition making application for it. you have these comprehensive coalitions. i l only had a few in ohio and a few of our counties. now we have them in over 60 of our counties and it's great because you have the business sector coming together, the
private sector along with the law enforcement folks, along with the treatment providers. and i've seen it work all over our state. i've seen so many people who have successfully been able to make that transition from prison and a life of crime and this revolving door into a productive life. i'll tell you about one person who is always on my mind when i think about this. it's someone i met at something called central kitchen. central kitchen is a reentry program run by the lutheran ministry in cleveland, ohio. melvin is the gentleman i met there, and melvin's story is classic. melvin had been in and out of prison his whole life for about a decade and a half. he was in prison, out of prison, out of prison. he grew up in a rough neighborhood as he said. he got involved with drugs and alcohol. he couldn't get out of the cycle, couldn't get out of the revolving door. one day he said he heard about this program and said i'll check it out. it's a faith-based program. they tend to be particularly effective, in my view, but
it's one that's supported by legislation like the second chance act. and sure enough, it's worked. melvin learned how to cook. he then worked there at the central kitchen, went on to work full time at another restaurant. as he said, what better way to be rewarded. what better way to be forgiven. he started his own catering business now. he's no longer defined by his past. he's defined by his willingness to take advantage of the second chance act. his eyes are now on the future. by the way, one thing he told me is i finally got a place to live again. i got my apartment back. and he sait most importantly -- he said most importantly to me, i got my child back. after 15 years of being in and out of prison, paying some child support, sometimes not, he now has his little girl living with him and he's a role model for her. and i've seen these role models all over our state. i've seen them in factories. i've talked to supervisors in factories who tell me the second
chance employees, they are the role model, they show up on time. they're grateful. they realize they have been given a second chance and take it seriously. mr. president, i support the underlying legislation, criminal justice reform law that we are now going to take up here on the floor. i think it's the right thing to do for our country in so many respects. our communities will be safer. taxpayers will be able to spend their money more efficiently and effectively and to these individuals who will be able to live l productive lives, that is their purpose in life. god's purpose in life for them is being fulfilled by this legislation. i'm glad it's being reauthorized as part this legislation. i encourage my colleagues to support this legislation. i thank senator leahy, the coauthor of the second chance act on the other side of the aisle. this has been be -- ip want to thank the president for this legislation. i also want to thank those members of the senate who have been so involved in this, particularly my colleagues on
the judiciary committee, senator durbin, senator lee. i just talked to senator lee about this legislation a moment ago. he's been tenacious, senator grassley, senator feinstein, senator booker, senator whitehouse, and others. this legislation will make a difference in my state of ohio and around the country and i encourage my colleagues to support it. i yield back. the presiding officer: the senator from arizona. mr. kyl: mr. president, let me speak for a moment about this act. the sponsors, as you just heard and supporters like senator portman, have proceeded here with very good intentions. as you just heard a compelling case to finding ways to help people who have made a mistake or more have an opportunity to turn their life around. one of the reasons that i'm concerned about the legislation is that all of the kinds of programs that have been spoken of here to enable people to learn new skills or change their
attitudes about life so that they won't commit crimes again, we won't have more recidivism. one of the concerns is there isn't anything to prohibit these programs from being done today and they are done all over the country in state prisons and federal prisons and the like. where i have a problem is to provide rewards for people to participate in these programs may have more negative than positive effects. i think the sponsors of the bill need to look at that in order to persuade some of us that these rewards are necessary in addition to the programs which railroad already in existence. the other thing that concerns me is that there's a forgotten person in this whole equation, and that's the victim of the crime. ever since i came to the senate, i have worked on legislation to support crime victims, and finally, and i think it was my first term in the senate here,
senator feinstein and i were successful in getting enacted and signed into law the federal crime victims rights bill. this act provides a whole series of rights for victims of crime starting with the right to be notified -- the right to be notified of key events during the criminal justice process and at appropriate times the right to speak or to participate. now, as i said, the crime victim seems to be forgotten in this legislation which has the good intention of preventing recidivism, but one of the incentives for people to participate in programs while they are still in prison is they can earn, in effect, some credits to enable them to get out earlier or to go on other kinds of programs before they are released by participating in these programs, but the victims don't need to be notified.
with the many people involved here and have been in prison, there are reasons for the victim to be concerned of the release. not to night the victims would be a grave injustice. one of the amendments that are senator kennedy and senator cotton have proposed is to provide notification. some have said this is redundant because the crime victims act already requires notification. yes, the crime victims rights act requires notifications of the court proceedings. here the proceedings are before the prison warden in effect. he or she makes the decisions adding up these credits to determine whether or not the prisoner is eligible for some kind of early release program. but the crime victims right act
provides, and i will quote it, provides that victims have the right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding. first of all, it has to be public, secondly, it has to be in court. that's not the proceeding that we're talking about in this legislation. and that's why the amendment of senator cotton and senator edwards is necessary to ensure that in this context as well crime victims are notified of the potential release of the perpetrator of the crime upon them so that if they wish, they can allow their views to be known presumably in some kind of written correspondence to the warden, which the warden could then take into account or not. now, i heard an odd argument made on the floor here in opposition to this amendment, and that was that under the crime victims act about 10% of
the crime victims don't care to be notified and, in effect, they opt-out of the notice procedure, and therefore because of that there shouldn't be a notice requirement for this procedure. well, that's a nonsecondor if i ever heard one. there are those who chose to ignore the notice they received. for whatever reason they don't want to go back into the court or to do anything about the notice they received, but for the other 90% this is a very meaningful proposition, and i think it would be a very scary proposition for some people not to be notified that the perpetrator of the crime against them is about to be released and they don't know about it let alone have any opportunity to say anything about it. the fact that 10% of the people may choose to ignore this notice is not reason not to provide the notice. if you don't want to receive the notice, there's something easy you can do about it, put it in
the waste basket. or if you're concerned that you might get notified again and that's a bother to you, you can et let -- you can let the warden know that. this is not a persuasive argument to me because one in ten choose not to do anything with the notice therefore we shouldn't give notice to the other 90% for whom it may be extraordinarily meaningful. to my colleagues i would say, remember, the only reason people are in prison is because they have committed a crime against someone, and that someone is frequently ignored in the criminal justice process. they shouldn't be ignored anymore, and at least in federal court, we have provided, by law, a series of requirements for notification and in some cases the right to be heard that finally recognizes that the victim should have some right to participate in and at a minimum be notified of the proceedings
that involve a case that's only there because they've had a crime committed against them. and in many cases it's a very meaningful thing for them to come to closure and to find a sense of justice in our criminal justice system to be able to participate in that very same system. in the past we seem to have gotten away from this. like, well, it's the prosecutor and it's the defendant and nobody else has any reason to be involved and, yet, of course, the victims have every reason to be involved. so to my colleagues who say, well, it's redundant, no it's clearly not redundant, the material crime victims rights act will not provide a remedy in the case of the bill before us. so if you care about crime victims, if you believe that they should have a right to be informed and to potentially present their view to the warden if they choose to do so, then i
would urge you to support this amendment of the cotton and john edwards amendment. and, finally, mr. president, i heard an argument that while there is a victims rights group that opposes this. i don't know that victims rights group. i do know this. i have been in touch with a lot of the advocates for crime victims and they oppose the underlying legislation, and one of the reasons is because it doesn't account for the crime victims. perhaps the opponents could get more support for their legislation if they would pay attention to the people against whom the crime was committed in the first instance and at least notify them that the prisoner is going to be released and give them tan opportunity to respond if they choose to do so. i urge my colleagues to support the crime victims rights amendment to the underlying bill.