Reentry Ready

IMPROVING INCARCERATION’S CONTRIBUTION TO SUCCESSFUL REENTRY

FINAL REPORT

Reentry Ready

IMPROVING INCARCERATION’S CONTRIBUTION TO SUCCESSFUL REENTRY

 

“For anyone who does not see the value in reentry programs, ask yourself, what kind of neighbors do we want returning citizens to be when they return home? Investing in returning citizens makes sense. There is no better fix to the ills we see in society than opportunity.”

BRIAN FERGUSON,
DIRECTOR, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA MAYOR’S OFFICE
ON RETURNING CITIZEN AFFAIRS
 

“For anyone who does not see the value in reentry programs, ask yourself, what kind of neighbors do we want returning citizens to be when they return home? Investing in returning citizens makes sense. There is no better fix to the ills we see in society than opportunity.”

BRIAN FERGUSON,
DIRECTOR, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA MAYOR’S OFFICE
ON RETURNING CITIZEN AFFAIRS

Introduction

Many actors, inside and outside of the criminal justice system, have a strong interest in ensuring that people who have been incarcerated become law-abiding and productive citizens upon reentering society. Though the overall number of people in prison is at a comparative low point given numbers seen in the last few decades, several states are seeing an increase in the populations of local jails1 and over 40 percent of those released from prison or jail will return within three years.2

The high costs of recidivism include the ever-increasing expense to taxpayers of the criminal justice system; the loss of the public’s safety and security in daily life; the disrupted lives and loss of safety and security experienced by victims of crime, their families, and their communities; and the disrupted lives and lost opportunities for incarcerated individuals, their families, and their communities.

Recently, increased attention to the continuing negative effects of incarceration has yielded new ideas for how to promote successful reentry. Happily, numerous instances of successful reentry efforts are available on which to build. The economic and social benefits of successful reentry can be game-changing, not only for formerly incarcerated individuals and their families, but also for local communities, states, and the entire country.

Over the course of 15 months, the Convergence Reentry Ready Project stakeholders focused on approaches to reentry that remove barriers inhibiting cross-systems collaboration and promote the full alignment of actors and the integration of systems needed to support successful reentry. The Reentry Ready Project team brought together a diverse group of stakeholders who were often in conflict in their views about how to ensure successful reentry. Stakeholders discussed and debated current policies and practices, identified barriers to action, developed strategies to bridge divides, and reexamined long-held beliefs about what stakeholders can expect to achieve when helping individuals through the experience of incarceration and reentry. Through a dialogue-to-action process, the participants built trust, identified breakthrough solutions, and formed alliances for action.

This report reflects the knowledge and experience of a distinguished and diverse group of national experts and stakeholders involved with reentry. Based on their expertise, this report focuses on a critically important reentry challenge: ensuring that the full range of actors and systems that need to collaborate to support reentry efforts have the mandates, resources, and accountability to do so.

Enabling incarcerated individuals to reenter their communities and become productive citizens requires not only their effort and commitment, but also support from many actors and systems—corrections, education, job training and employment, physical and behavioral health, housing, community, and family. Admittedly, many of the communities to which formerly incarcerated individuals return do not have adequate or appropriate resources to meet identified needs. This is especially true of communities of color burdened by decades of disenfranchisement and disinvestment. Therefore, these actors and systems need to consider local community contexts and the very real racial and ethnic disparities that hinder reentry success. Actors and systems must work in concert to support the individual during the reentry process by meeting their unique reentry needs and reducing their barriers to reentry, complementing and, where necessary, supplementing the resources in the individual’s home community.

The Reentry Ready Project stakeholders are a diverse group composed of public and private prison officials, correctional officers, experts in mental and physical health, direct service providers, the faith community, education advocates, researchers, criminal justice experts, and right and left-leaning advocacy groups. Within the group are formerly incarcerated individuals who offered unique perspectives on the needs and concerns of individuals involved in the criminal justice system.

 

The Reentry Ready Project stakeholders are a diverse group composed of public and private prison officials, correctional officers, experts in mental and physical health, direct service providers, the faith community, education advocates, researchers, criminal justice experts, and right and left-leaning advocacy groups. Within the group are formerly incarcerated individuals who offered unique perspectives on the needs and concerns of individuals involved in the criminal justice system.

In the context of the criminal justice system, and in this report, “reentry” is considered a sustained process that begins at the first point of contact with the incarceration system rather than a single event in time. This report focuses specifically on the period of incarceration and reintegration back into society (with or without post-release supervision) and describes a set of services and supports needed to enable an incarcerated individual to return to the community prepared to be a productive community member without additional involvement in the criminal justice system.

Effective reentry requires a joint effort by the incarcerated individual, corrections staff, and representatives of other social and public systems, who must undertake the following activities:  

  • Assessing the individual’s needs and risks, whether physical, behavioral, social or emotional, educational, or work-related
  • Setting reentry goals based on assessment, and plans as to how to meet them
  • Undertaking necessary and appropriate physical and behavioral health treatment
  • Pursuing relevant educational programs, and developing life skills and job skills during incarceration
  • In the months before release, building or rebuilding connections to the family and the community the individual plans to return to, and ensuring that the individual has key documents and resources that he or she will need immediately upon reentry, such as a valid identification card, education and skills certificates, a place to live, health insurance, enrollment in additional treatment and/or education and skill-building programs, connections to community-based social services providers, and employers and/or employment agencies
  • Ascertaining the physical and mental toll incarceration has had on the individual and adjusting the reentry plan to address the harm endured, as well as accounting for the unequal distribution of negative health effects given race and gender
  • Establishing a post-release supervision approach with the primary goal of supporting the released person’s successful reentry
  • In the months after release, securing housing, employment or other legal sources of income, maintaining ongoing health care, securing any necessary social services, and continuing to build constructive connections to family and/or community
  • In the years after release, translating initial reentry successes into stable and productive participation in the community and society

Unfortunately, few jurisdictions in the United States offer cross-system collaboration that consistently and effectively supports the process of reentry and reintegration. Instead, most currently and formerly incarcerated individuals experience fragmented, underfunded, and overtaxed systems that further punish their failures instead of facilitating their successes. Likewise, some reentry initiatives are ineffective and counterproductive, exacerbating the challenges of reentry instead of enabling success.

This report provides a framework for improving collaboration among actors and integration of systems, with the goal of creating a more integrated and effective support network for currently and formerly incarcerated individuals engaged in the process of reentry. 

The Reentry Ready Project stakeholders believe that improved collaboration among supporting actors and systems will enable individuals to achieve a more successful reentry and to transform their lives, thereby reducing the rate of recidivism. The report summarizes the content of discussions with a wide range of experts, offering several strategies that can be deployed to increase the number of individuals who successfully return home to lead more productive lives than before their incarceration, avoiding additional involvement with the criminal justice system.

“Where has Convergence been all this time? The Convergence process gave me an opportunity to share what correctional officers really think about our role in reentry. Too often we are left out of conversations about reentry. Everyone assumes that correctional officers are not invested in effective programs and services inside prisons. On the contrary, we want people to get the help they need to live better, more productive lives and not return to prison.”

Steven Walker
The Challenge

Convergence Center for Policy Resolution is a national non-profit based in Washington, DC that convenes individuals and organizations with divergent views to build trust, identify solutions, and form alliances for action on issues of critical public concern. Reports and recommendations issued under our auspices reflect the views of the individuals and organizations who put the ideas forward. Convergence itself remains neutral and does not endorse or take positions on recommendations of its stakeholders.

Convergence Center for Policy Resolution
1133 19th Street NW, Suite 410
Washington, DC | 20036
202 830 2310

www.convergencepolicy.org

Convergence Center for Policy Resolution is a national non-profit based in Washington, DC that convenes individuals and organizations with divergent views to build trust, identify solutions, and form alliances for action on issues of critical public concern. Reports and recommendations issued under our auspices reflect the views of the individuals and organizations who put the ideas forward. Convergence itself remains neutral and does not endorse or take positions on recommendations of its stakeholders.

Convergence Center for Policy Resolution
1133 19th Street NW, Suite 410
Washington, DC | 20036
202 830 2310

www.convergencepolicy.org