Elderly Prisoner Release Program Would Expand Under New Second Chance Reauthorization Act - FAMM


Elderly Prisoner Release Program Would Expand Under New Second Chance Reauthorization Act

Categories: Compassionate Release, Featured, Newsroom, Press Release

MEDIA CONTACT: Mike Riggs, 202-822-6706, mriggs@famm.org

Families Against Mandatory Minimums is excited to announce that the newly reintroduced Second Chance Reauthorization Act will include expanded provisions for the release of elderly federal prisoners.

The Second Chance Reauthorization Act, introduced today by U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), includes a provision allowing some nonviolent offenders who are 60 years old or older and who have served at least two-thirds of their sentences to petition for transfer from a Bureau of Prisons facility to home confinement. The legislation would also expand the elderly release opportunity to some nonviolent offenders who have served at least 30 years of a sentence of life without parole. Before any reassignment to home confinement, the Bureau of Prisons must determine that the aging prisoner is not a threat to public safety. Prisoners with convictions for violent or sex offenses are barred from transfer.

Molly Gill, FAMM’s government affairs counsel, issued this statement in response to the legislation:

“We salute Senators Portman and Leahy for this common-sense bill and encourage Congress to pass it this year. Decades of using long mandatory minimum sentences means that federal prisoners are getting older, sicker, more expensive, and less dangerous to the public. Elderly prisoners cost more than younger ones and have much lower rates of reoffending. Using cheaper home supervision for this group is good fiscal and public safety policy. Prisons shouldn’t be nursing homes for aging people who are not dangerous.”

The expanded program addresses growing concerns about an aging prison population’s effect on federal prison and public safety budgets. Both the number of elderly federal prisoners and their medical costs have skyrocketed in recent years, according to a report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General.

The initial Second Chance Act, passed in 2007 with bipartisan support and signed into law by President George W. Bush, allowed elderly prisoners to leave prison for home confinement only if they met incredibly narrow criteria. 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. The result was that only approximately 80 elderly prisoners were sent to home confinement.  

The Second Chance Reauthorization Act would also 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.

“This kind of public safety funding is vital, but it’s been hit hard in the last decade,” Gill added. “Unless Congress stops giving kingpin-size mandatory minimum sentences to nonviolent drug offenders, we’ll keep seeing more of the same – overcrowded, expensive prisons that suck up more and more funding that could go to police, victims, and better offender rehabilitation and reentry.”

A mandatory minimum sentencing reform bill with wide bipartisan support, the Smarter Sentencing Act, is pending in Congress and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would save $3 billion over 10 years if passed.