It's hard to begin to capture the blighting effects of the U.S. prison system--though Sasha Abramsky gets close when he likens the current U.S. gulag's effects to that of the GI Bill in reverse: creating a generation of millions who return to their communities jobless, without skills, with untreated addictions and frequently homeless. Accordingly, the Second Chance Act's passage is a major victory: as Chris Suellentrop notes in his excellent piece on the GOP's 'jailhouse conversion,' the Act marks the first piece of legislation Congress has passed that takes a restorative, not punitive, approach to crime.
Still though, I'm reminded of a conversation I had last summer with the Legal Action Center's Glenn Martin--himself formerly incarcerated--who expressed trepidation about allowing the national conversation on prisons focus too much on prison reentry (along with the cost-benefit analyses that generally accompany such arguments). "Beyond prisoner reentry," he says, "we can't overlook the deeper questions of why we put so many people in prison in the first place." And, as well, the question of who.