S. 1513, Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2015

Bill text: 
To read the full text of the Senate bill, click here.

Status: S. 1513 did not become a law in the 114th Congress.

Summary: The bipartisan Second Chance Reauthorization Act (S. 1513), introduced by U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), would allow some nonviolent prisoners to be transferred out of a federal prison and onto home confinement for the rest of their sentences. The aging offender release program is the only part of the Second Chance Reauthorization Act that would, if passed, let some people out of federal prison early. The rest of the bill is related to federal funding: it would allow Congress to provide funding to state, local, and Tribal governments for rehabilitation and reentry programs that help people get jobs, education, drug and mental health treatment, and other resources to help them stay crime-free. FAMM supports the Second Chance Reauthorization Act. Read FAMM’s press release on the bill here.

Details of Aging Offender Release Program: If passed into law, the Second Chance Reauthorization Act would allow either the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) or a federal prisoner to request a transfer to home confinement, by submitting a written request to the U.S. Attorney General. The program would only apply to people convicted in federal courts, not state courts. Under the bill, federal prisoners who would be eligible for release would be required to meet all of the following criteria:

  1. Be 60 years old or older AND
  2. Have served at least two-thirds of their sentences, or at least 30 years of their sentences if the person is serving life AND
  3. Cannot be serving a sentence for a conviction for an offense or offenses that include any crime of violence (as defined in Title 18, section 16), sex offense (as defined in 42 U.S.C. section 16911(5)), offense described in 18 U.S.C. section 2332b(g)(5)(B) (terrorism), or offense under Title 18, chapter 37 (espionage) AND
  4. Has not been determined by the BOP, on the basis of information the BOP uses to make custody classifications, and in the BOP’s sole discretion, to have a history of violence, or of engaging in conduct constituting a crime of violence, sex offense, terrorism offense, or espionage offense while in the BOP’s custody AND
  5. Has not escaped, or attempted to escape, from a BOP institution AND
  6. The BOP has determined that this person’s release to home detention will reduce costs for the Federal Government AND
  7. The BOP has determined, after reviewing the offender’s age, health, and behavioral record in custody, that the person is at no substantial risk of engaging in criminal conduct or of endangering any person or the public if released to home detention.

If released, the person would serve the remainder of his or her sentence on home detention. Violations of release conditions or committing new crimes could mean that the home detention would be revoked and the person would be sent back to federal prison.

History: The Second Chance Reauthorization Act is a big improvement on the original Second Chance Act, which Congress passed in 2007 and was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The original Second Chance Act had an elderly offender release program, but it was temporary and only lasted two years. Its criteria were also very strict: prisoners hoping for early release had to be 65 years old or older, and have served either 10 years or 75 percent of their sentences, whichever was longer. As a result, only approximately 80 elderly prisoners were sent to home confinement under the original Second Chance Act. The new Second Chance Reauthorization Act would make more elderly prisoners eligible for transfer, and its release program would be permanent, not temporary.  

Key Talking Points:

According to the Justice Department

  • Elderly prisoners are the fastest-growing segment of the federal prison population, due largely to the use of lengthy mandatory minimum sentences over the last 30 years.
  • Elderly prisoners are also more expensive to incarcerate than younger prisoners, largely because they often have more medical problems that require treatment, medication, and surgery.
  • Elderly prisoners reoffend at lower rates than younger prisoners and have fewer disciplinary incidents while incarcerated.
  • BOP currently lacks sufficient medical personnel and resources to address elderly offender medical needs within reasonable time periods.
  • Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities are not equipped to accommodate the special needs and physical limitations of elderly prisoners (e.g., having lower bunks, handrails in showers, etc.).
  • BOP employees are not properly trained to recognize and address the needs of elderly prisoners, and there are currently not enough social workers to help the large number of elderly prisoners find the resources they need for successful reentry.
  • The previous BOP pilot program’s criteria were too narrow, leading to the release of only about 80 people over a two-year period, out of a total prison population of over 210,000.

Resources:

DOJ Inspector General Report: The Impact of an Aging Inmate Population on the Federal Bureau of Prisons (May 2015)

“The Painful Price of Aging in Prison” (Sari Horowitz, Washington Post, May 2, 2015)

Life Sentences in the Federal System (U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2015)