SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Criminal justice reform continues to be a focal point in our nation’s capital.
A new bill unveiled Tuesday, co-sponsored by Utah Senator Mike Lee will provide more education opportunities for federal inmates.
The idea is to help them make a successful transition when they get out.
Prisons are packed across the country, but most inmates will ultimately get another chance at life on the outside.
“The overwhelming majority of all prisoners, after serving time, will eventually be released,” said Lee, (R) Utah.
The sad reality is that many will return. The national recidivism rate is 43% in just the first three years.
Senator Lee says higher education can help close the revolving door.
That’s why he’s teaming up with two Democratic colleagues to introduce the Restoring Education and Learning, or the REAL Act.
“The REAL Act removes some federal impediments to allowing prisoners to participate in federal higher education funding, including the Pell Grants. This would allow for more federal inmates to have the opportunity to participate in these programs,” Lee said.
He was also a key proponent of the First Step Act, the massive, bipartisan criminal justice reform bill passed and signed into law last year.
It restricts mandatory sentencing for non-violent offenders, allows some inmates to earn early release with good behavior, and supports prison rehabilitation programs.
Lee says this is a second step to give inmates a fighting chance when they transition back into the community.
“The REAL Act would help supplement that by providing an additional source of funding so that prisoners can receive the education and training that they’ll need in order to keep them out of trouble when they are released from prison,” said Lee.
Senators Brian Schatz, (D) Hawaii and Dick Durbin, (D) Illinois are the other two sponsors of the bill.
It’s also endorsed by a number of stakeholder organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American Correctional Association and the Drug Policy Alliance.