OFFENDERS RE-ENTRY

-Riya Puniyani 

Introduction 

The four-fold increase in incarceration rates in America over the past 25  years has had far-reaching consequences. In 2003 alone, more than  656,000 state and federal prisoners returned to communities across the  country, affecting public safety, public health, economic and community well-being, and family networks. The impact of prisoner  reentry The four-fold increase in incarceration rates in America over the  past 25 years has had far-reaching consequences. In 2003 alone, more  than 656,000 state and federal prisoners returned to communities across  the country, affecting public safety, public health, economic and community well-being, and family networks. The impact of prisoner  reentry is further compounded by the returning jail population with its  unique set of challenges and opportunities. Research in the last decade  has begun to measure the effect of reentry on returning prisoners, their  families, and communities. Two-thirds of released prisoners are  rearrested within three years of release. One and a half million children  have a parent in prison. Four million citizens have lost their right to  vote. Men and women enter U.S. prisons with limited marketable work  experience, low levels of educational or vocational skills, and many  health-related issues, ranging from mental health needs to substance  abuse histories and high rates of communicable diseases. When they  leave prison, these challenges remain and affect neighbourhood’s,  families, and society at large. With limited assistance in their  reintegration, former prisoners pose public safety risks to communities,  and about half will return to prison for new crimes or parole violations  within three years of release. This cycle of removal and return of large 

numbers of adults, mostly men, is increasingly concentrated in  communities often already deprived of resources and ill equipped to meet the challenges this population presents further compounded by the  returning jail population with its unique set of challenges and  opportunities. Research in the last decade has begun to measure the  effect of reentry on returning prisoners, their families, and communities.  Two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years of  reResearch.One and a half million children have a parent in prison. Four  million citizens have lost their right to vote.Men and women enter U.S.  prisons with limited marketable work experience, low levels of  educational or vocational skills, and many health-related issues,ranging  from mental health needs to substance abuse histories and high rates of  communicable diseases. When they leave prison, these challenges  remain and affect neighbourhoods, families, and society at large. With  limited assistance in their reintegration, former prisoners pose public  safety risks to communities, and about half will return to prison for new  crimes or parole violations within three years of release. This cycle of  removal and return of large numbers of adults, mostly men, is  increasingly concentrated in communities often already deprived of  resources and ill equipped to meet the challenges this population  presents. 

Meaning:- Prisoner reentry is the process by which prisoners who have been released return to the community. 

Do Reentry Program Work? 

So, what does the literature say about reentry programs and recidivism?  The short answer is that it’s complicated. Due to the lack of RCTs and  replications, no reentry programs meet the “evidence-based” definition. We don’t have a strong understanding of what works and what doesn’t, 

and there’s a pressing need for additional research to help us better  understand the dynamic process of reentry. Overall , the results of RCTs  of reentry programs for reducing recidivism are mixed, at best. To date,  much of the discussion about how to help formerly incarcerated individuals is focused on employment and training assistance. Various  types of employment programming are commonly implemented as  reentry programs. I want to spend a few minutes talking about what we  know regarding the effectiveness of employment programs. 

In a nutshell, there are very few employment programs that show  promise for reducing recidivism. In particular, employment-focused  reentry programs have had little success in reducing recidivism. This means that prisoner reentry efforts that rely mainly on job training and  subsidized jobs are not likely to succeed. Despite these findings,  employment-focused programs are seen as a panacea. We should not  support them expecting that they will serve as a cure-all. Employment is  a big part of an individual’s needs as they return to society, but we know  that successful reentry is a lot more complicated than just finding a job. 

In 2000, the Justice Policy Centre at the Urban Institute launched an  ongoing investment in prisoner reentry research to better understand the  pathways of successful reintegration, the social and fiscal costs of  current policies, and the impacts of incarceration and reentry on  individuals, families, and communities. Over the past six years, the  Urban Institute’s reentry research portfolio has informed a broad set of  policy and practice discussions about the challenges facing former  prisoners. The Institute’s research includes a range of studies, from  rigorous program evaluations to strategic planning partnerships with  state and local jurisdictions. More specifically, the Institute’s reentry  portfolio includes the following: 

Primary research:- The Urban Institute’s cornerstone study is  Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry, a 

multistate, longitudinal study that documents the pathways of prisoner  reintegration, examines what factors contribute to a successful or  unsuccessful reentry experience, and identifies how those factors can  inform policy. The Returning Home study has been implemented in four  states, including a pilot study in Maryland and full studies in Illinois,  Ohio, and Texas. The goal in each state is to collect information on  individuals’ life circumstances immediately prior to, during, and up to  one year after their release. Returning Home documents the challenges  of reentry along five dimensions: individual, family, peer, community,  and state. 

Program Evaluation:- A large part of the Urban Institute reentry  research portfolio includes evaluations of reentry programs and  initiatives. For example, with funding from the National Institute of  Justice and in partnership with the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), the  Urban Institute is conducting a multiyear comprehensive evaluation of  the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative, a collaborative  federal effort to improve reentry outcomes along criminal justice,  employment, education, health, and housing dimensions. Urban Institute  researchers are also engaged in individual evaluations of faith-based and  other targeted re-entry programs. 

Re-entry Roundtable:- The Reentry Roundtable is an ongoing forum  that brings together prominent academics, practitioners, community  leaders, policymakers, advocates, and former prisoners to explore the  policy impact of various components of reentry such as housing, health  care, public safety, and civic participation. The goal of the roundtables is  to develop new thinking on the issue of prisoner reentry and to foster  policy innovations that will improve outcomes for individuals, families,  and communities. 

Policy Reports:-An important component of the Urban Institute’s  reentry research port-folio also includes policy reports that synthesize  existing research. One example is a study using data from the Bureau of  Justice Statistics to examine the state of parole in America.  

The study examined three major dimensions of the parole function: the  extent to which parole boards make release decisions, the population  under parole supervision, and the issue of parole revocation (the decision  to send a parolee back to prison).  

Strategic partnerships:The Urban Institute has engaged in several  strategic partnerships with national organizations, including the National  Governors Association, the Council of State Governments, and the  International Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as state and local  organizations. For example, the Urban Institute is one of 10 partner  agencies of the Re-Entry Policy Council, established in 2001 by the  Council of State Governments to assist state government officials face  the growing numbers of people leaving prison and jail Andre turning to  the community. The Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council, co-authored by the Council of State Governments and the 10 project partners,  provides extensive recommendations for the safe and successful return  of prisoners to the community, reflecting the common ground reached  by the Policy Council during a series of meetings.  

Scans of Practice:- The Urban Institute has produced several scans of  practice that identify and highlight prisoner reentry programs in the  field. For example, as part of Outreach Extensions’ Reentry National  Media Outreach Campaign, the Urban Institute conducted a national 

scan of notable or innovative reentry programs that address the needs  and risks facing returning prisoners, their families, and communities. 

Employment and Reentry:- Finding and maintaining a job is a critical  dimension of successful prisoner reentry. Research has shown that  employment is associated with lower rates of reoffending, and higher  wages are associated with lower rates of criminal activity. However,  former prisoners face tremendous challenges in finding and maintaining  legitimate job opportunities, including low levels of education, limited  work experience, and limited vocational skills. This is further  compounded by the incarceration period, during which they forfeit the  opportunity to gain marketable work experience and sever professional  connections and social contacts that could lead to legal employment upon release. In addition, the general reluctance of employers to hire  former prisoners serves as a barrier to job placement.The Urban Institute  has explored the nexus between employment and prisoner reentry through a Reentry Roundtable, the Returning Home study, and an  impact evaluation of the Opportunity to Succeed (OPTS) program.  During the May 2003 Reentry Roundtable, national experts examined  policies, practices, problems, and incentives involved in connecting  returning prisoners to legitimate, marketable employment. In addition,  Returning Home explores issues related to employment by documenting  the prerelease expectations and postrelease work experiences of  prisoners in Illinois, Maryland, Texas, and Ohio. Finally, a process and  impact evaluation of the multisite OPTS program illuminated the  importance of employment and related services for returning prisoners.  Finding and maintaining a job is a critical dimension of successful prisoner reentry. Research has shown that employment is associated  with lower rates of reoffending, and higher wages are associated with  lower rates of criminal activity. However, former prisoners face 

tremendous challenges in finding and maintaining legitimate job  opportunities, including low levels of education, limited work  experience, and limited vocational skills. This is further compounded by  the incarceration period, during which they forfeit the opportunity to  gain marketable work experience and sever professional connections and  social contacts that could lead to legal employment upon release.In  addition, the general reluctance of employers to hire former prisoners  serves as a barrier to job placement. The Urban Institute has explored the  nexus between employment and prisoner reentrythrough a Reentry  Roundtable, the Returning Home study, and an impact evaluation of the  Opportunity to Succeed (OPTS) program. During the May 2003 Reentry  Roundtable, national experts examined policies, practices, problems, and  incentives involved in connecting returning prisoners to legitimate,  marketable employment. In addition, Returning Home explores issues  related to employment by documenting the prerelease expectations and  postrelease work experiences of prisoners in Illinois, Maryland, Texas,  and Ohio. Finally, a process and impact evaluation of the multisite  OPTS program illuminated the importance of employment and related  services for returning prisoners. 

Health and Reentry:- The prevalence of severe mental disorders and  chronic and infectious diseases among the prison population is far  greater than among the general population. Even when individuals have  received adequate physical and mental health services while in prison,  they often face limited access and insufficient linkages to community based health care upon release. Service providers have identified the  lack of available resources for services and the competition for funding  as significant problems in delivering services to former prisoners,  especially those with the most serious health needs.In addition,  incarceration disqualifies inmates from Medicaid eligibility. Restoring  eligibility can take several months, interrupting access to prescription 

drugs and putting individuals at high risk of relapse. The Returning  Home study at the Urban Institute has illuminated many health-related  challenges associated with reentry, including a special focus on  returning prisoners with serious mental and physical illness in  Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as a study on the health care Chicago prisoners  receive during prison and the health challenges they face after release.  The Urban Institute also convened a Reentry Roundtable on the public  health dimensions of prisoner reentry to generate a discussion among  experts about the health needs and risks of returning prisoners and their  families. In addition, researchers at the Urban Institute explored  evidenced-based housing programs that serve persons with mental  illness who have had contact with the criminal justice system and  identified various programs serving this population across the country. 

Housing and Reentry:- Securing housing is perhaps the most  immediate challenge facing prisoners upon their release. While many  returning prisoners have plans to stay with family, those who do not  confront limited housing options. The process of obtaining housing is  often complicated by a host of factors: the scarcity of affordable and  available housing, legal barriers and regulations, prejudices that restrict  tenancy for this population, and strict eligibility requirements for  federally subsidized housing. Research has found that released prisoners  who do not have stable housing arrangements are more likely to return  to prison, suggesting that the obstacles to securing both temporary and  permanent housing warrant the attention of policymakers, practitioners,  and researchers. In an effort to understand the dimensions of the housing  challenge and how it relates to the reentry process, the Returning Home  study has examined the housing arrangements of recently released  prisoners, as well as the relationship between these arrangements and the  successes and challenges of the reentry process. In addition, the Urban  Institute has researched housing programs for returning prisoners and the 

ways in which housing and criminal justice agencies can effectively  work together to address the housing needs of this population. 

Substance Use and Reentry:- Substance use among former prisoners  presents significant challenges to the reentry process. Studies have  shown that while 83 percent of state prisoners have a history of drug use,  only a small fraction receive treatment while incarcerated and after  release. For example, while three-fourths of state prisoners have had  some type of involvement with alcohol or drug use in the time leading up to their offense, only 15 percent of this group receives treatment in  prison. Furthermore, for those who have access to and take advantage of  treatment programs in prison, few continue to receive appropriate  treatment once they return to the community. At the same time, prison based drug treatment has been shown to reduce drug use and criminal  activity, especially when coupled with aftercare treatment in the  community. The Urban Institute has studied the challenges that  substance use presents to the reentry process from the perspectives and  experiences of both prisoners and practitioners. Returning Home  documents the prevalence of drug use and treatment participation among  prisoners through their preprison substance use histories, their  expectations before release, and their engagement in substance use after  release. Other studies synthesize the literature on drug treatment and the  challenges of integrating treatment services into the criminal justice  system. 

Communities and Reentry:-Released prisoners are returning in  relatively high concentrations to a small number of communities in  America’s urban centres, thereby having a profound—and  disproportionate— impact on community life, family networks, and  social capital in the neighbourhoods. Social and economic disadvantage  often characterize these communities, compounding the challenges and 

burdens that this population brings to bear when they return home.  Research also suggests that high rates of incarceration and reentry of  community residents through the revolving door of the criminal justice  system may further destabilize these communities. The Urban Institute  has mapped concentrations of prisoner reentry in several states and  communities across the country. As a provider of research and technical  assistance to the National Governors Association Reentry Policy  Academy as well as through the Returning Home study, the Urban  Institute has mapped the reentry to communities in Massachusetts,  Michigan, New Jersey, Idaho, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland,  Illinois,Ohio, and Texas. The Urban Institute also established the  Reentry Mapping Network, a partnership among 12 community-based  organizations to create community change through the mapping and  analysis of neighbourhood-level data related to reentry and community  well-being. To examine both the impact of reentry on communities and  the role of communities in a prisoner’s reintegration process, the  Returning Home study involves interviews with returning prisoners,  focus groups with members of communities that are home to large  concentrations of returning prisoners, and interviews with stakeholders  involved in reentry activities at the community and city levels. The  Urban Institute has also convened a Reentry Roundtable exploring the  role of community institutions, such as faith-based organizations and  local businesses, in prisoner reentry. 

Conclusion:- 

To be sure, the reentry model outlined here would not find easy  acceptance. Even if it were embraced in principle, too much may be  invested in the current system to consider undertaking such a major  over-haul. Then there are the multiple logistical challenges, with  workload considerations— particularly those of judges and community

corrections officers—paramount. The main challenge would be to build  the interagency relationships essential to making the model work. That  would involve, among other things, creating a link on the conceptual  level between incarceration on the one hand and probation and parole on  the other. Perhaps the rationales for revisiting reentry 

outlined here—among them current sentencing policies that mean more  returning offenders, the issue of relapse, the eclipse of traditional  parole—are not convincing on their own. But add to them the array of  innovations under way on such fronts as drug courts, the pretrial phase  of justice processing, and restorative justice, as well as in projects nationwide that are marshalling the forces of corrections in the service of  public safety, and the times seem to offer that rare mix of policy  challenge and opportunity for new ways of doing business.

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