By Ari Bloomekatz
Enquirer staff writer
LEBANON - U.S. Rep. Rob Portman went to the Lebanon Correctional Institution on Tuesday seeking support from local officials and community leaders for a bill to help ex-offenders land jobs and get back on their feet once they are released from prison.
The Second Chance Act of 2004, costing $112 million over two years, is designed to reduce the number of former prisoners who get out of prison only to commit new crimes, Portman said.
"(There) had to be a way for us to get prisoners treatment so they weren't coming back through the revolving door, back into prison," said Portman, R-Terrace Park.
Of the nearly 650,000 prisoners released across the nation annually, Portman said, nearly two-thirds of those will commit new crimes and go back to prison within three years. In Ohio, that costs taxpayers some $20,000 a year for each prisoner.
Ohio's first lady, Hope Taft, said convicts often find it a daunting task to find housing, work, treatment for alcohol and drug addictions and family support, once released from prison.
"The issues they face seem insurmountable," Taft said. "Release doesn't necessarily make things easier."
The bill would add money to existing re-entry programs as well as establish new national centers, local resources and state grant opportunities for released convicts, making it easier for them to find jobs, get substance abuse treatment, and find housing and work, Portman said.
Warren County prosecutor Rachel Hutzel said Portman's bill will resonate with conservatives worried about fiscal responsibility.
"The goal of the bill is to not provide welfare, but to provide the opportunity for parolees to help themselves," said Hutzel said. "By doing that, we also save money and we protect the community from the risk that a parolee will re-offend. That is a conservative way of looking at an old problem."
Marsha Watts Visher, executive vice president of the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, said the bill will help provide resources for ex-offenders, but will only help reduce re-entry with cooperation from the business community.
"If you want to keep somebody out of prison, you have to help them find a way to self-sufficiency," Watts Visher said.
"(They) don't go back to prison if they have jobs that they can go to and earn a living."
Portman said he hopes to pass the bill in Judiciary Committee sometime this September and that it would likely be up for a vote in both houses within two years.
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