Theory of Change

In line with the principles they have articulated and reflecting on their collective experience, the Reentry Ready Project stakeholders have developed a theory of change for improving reentry success. The stakeholders know the success factors for individuals. They know what public and private systems need to do to help individuals succeed. And they know that a coordinated, collaborative approach is more efficient and more effective for service delivery and public safety.

The Theory of Change

In line with the principles they have articulated and reflecting on their collective experience, the Reentry Ready Project stakeholders have developed a theory of change for improving reentry success. The stakeholders know the success factors for individuals. They know what public and private systems need to do to help individuals succeed. And they know that a coordinated, collaborative approach is more efficient and more effective for service delivery and public safety.

The Reentry Ready Project stakeholders’ theory, in brief, is that:

  • If incarcerated individuals and the systems that supervise and support them use an integrated case management approach to set and achieve individualized reentry goals,

  • AND

    State and local leaders authorize and support such an approach,

  • AND

    Leaders and systems also remove key barriers to reentry success that are embedded in current systems,

  • THEN

    More individuals will succeed in reentry, public safety will improve, and returning individuals, their families and communities will experience social and economic gains.

    Evidence and practice in a limited number of jurisdictions across the country strongly supports this theory. The Reentry Ready Project stakeholders are calling for the adoption of this theory of change throughout the nation, and its adaptation to every jurisdiction, as a means of accomplishing dramatic advances in reentry policy, practice, and results. A more detailed articulation of the theory follows.

    Individual Success Factors

    Individuals who have been incarcerated are more likely to be successful in reentry if they have the following:

    • The mindset and motivation to be law abiding and productive citizens
    • Health (physical and behavioral) and the ability to maintain it
    • Knowledge, skills and credentials that are in demand in the job market Stable and affordable housing
    • Connections to family and community networks that will offer continuing support for the individual’s mindset, motivation, health, housing, education and employment

    The need for a cross-system management approach

    Corrections systems work with currently and formerly incarcerated individuals to help the individual reintegrate into society, but they cannot produce successful outcomes without additional help, and they should not be expected to do so. Health systems, education, job training and employment systems, affordable housing providers, social service systems, and community institutions must also support the individual in the reentry process.

    To make cross-system support work, the Reentry Ready Project stakeholders believe that a case management approach is essential. The case management approach, used for integrated social-service delivery throughout the country, has had success in supporting individuals who share many of the same life challenges that reentering individuals face. This approach is also in use in a relatively small number of state and local jurisdictions around the country, including North Dakota20 and Cook County, Illinois21, to support reentry. The case management approach has shown great promise in jurisdictions that have initiated its use for this purpose, even though the systems assisting reentry still have much work to do.

    The use of a number of important mechanisms make the case management approach effective:

    • Institutional agreements among corrections, community-based supervision (parole and probation), education, employment, health, housing, and social service agencies at state and local levels, to establish goals, roles, responsibilities and resources for supporting individuals during incarceration and reentry
    • Case management teams for incarcerated individuals as a central element of these institutional agreements, to include representatives of all the systems named above, coordinated by corrections during incarceration and by another appropriate agency during reentry
    • Initial assessments at the start of incarceration by the case management teams, in collaboration with the incarcerated individual, to determine reentry goals, risks, and needs
    • An outcome-focused plan covering the period of incarceration for each individual, to include commitments by and incentives for the individual, as well as commitments by and incentives for participating systems to provide services that the incarcerated individual needs to succeed
    • Periodic joint review during the period of incarceration, in which the case management team and the incarcerated individual monitor the progress of the individual and the provision of services, making adjustments to agreements and plans where needed
    • Joint identification of essential services and supervision that the individual will need during his or her first 6–12 months after reentry and a review that must occur during the 3–12 months immediately before reentry and lead to:
      • creation of a detailed reentry plan
      • confirmation of services to be provided post-reentry
      • designation of a post-reentry case manager and team (with the assumption that corrections will leave the support team and one or more community-based public and private agencies will join it)
      • additional outreach to the family and community to which the individual will return
      • additional in-reach from the community (family, faith-based or other social services organizations; education and job training; health care; and community supervision agencies, as required)
    • Implementation of the reentry plan by the reentering individual and the team, with periodic joint review and adjustment

    The need for state and local leadership

    In most jurisdictions, establishing this approach will require major shifts in all the systems involved. At the state level, governors, legislative leaders, and agency heads need to agree on the critical importance of cross-system collaboration to increase reentry success and reduce recidivism. These leaders can establish goals for the state, identify roles and responsibilities of state agencies, encourage information sharing across entities and allocate the resources needed for effective case management to provide services and supports to individuals during incarceration and after reentry into the community. Specifically, for corrections systems, a case management approach will usually require new regulations and investments in job reprofiling, retraining, and recruitment.
    Local government leaders, public agencies, private and nonprofit service providers, and faith communities need to participate as full partners with their state-level counterparts. This is especially important for local leaders and agencies in the jurisdictions that receive the largest proportion of individuals reentering from state correctional facilities. In addition, local governments should create similar case management approaches for individuals incarcerated in their jails, giving priority in the allocation of case management resources to those with highest risk and need.

    The need for state and local leadership

    In most jurisdictions, establishing this approach will require major shifts in all the systems involved. At the state level, governors, legislative leaders, and agency heads need to agree on the critical importance of cross-system collaboration to increase reentry success and reduce recidivism. These leaders can establish goals for the state, identify roles and responsibilities of state agencies, encourage information sharing across entities and allocate the resources needed for effective case management to provide services and supports to individuals during incarceration and after reentry into the community. Specifically, for corrections systems, a case management approach will usually require new regulations and investments in job reprofiling, retraining, and recruitment.
    Local government leaders, public agencies, private and nonprofit service providers, and faith communities need to participate as full partners with their state-level counterparts. This is especially important for local leaders and agencies in the jurisdictions that receive the largest proportion of individuals reentering from state correctional facilities. In addition, local governments should create similar case management approaches for individuals incarcerated in their jails, giving priority in the allocation of case management resources to those with highest risk and need.

    The need to remove key barriers to success

    A well-designed, adequately resourced case management approach is necessary, but not sufficient for success. State and local leaders also need to remove system-specific barriers that make reentry extremely difficult for many returning individuals. Key barriers are outlined in the above discussion of challenges hindering successful reentry of incarcerated individuals and explained in fuller detail in subsequent sections of this report.

    In brief, key barriers to reentry include incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals’ inadequate access to health insurance and to facilities offering medical treatment and behavioral healthcare; inability to access educational opportunities and appropriate training; inability to obtain occupational licenses; difficulty obtaining job counseling and placement; inadequate access to housing; and difficulty restoring family life and accessing social support networks.

    Some of the most important steps to remove these barriers include:

    • Ensuring that all reentering individuals have some form of health insurance and have access to health care in the communities to which they return
    • Providing access to both basic and higher education for all incarcerated individuals, and ensuring transferability of credits earned during incarceration to institutions where the students can continue their education after reentry
    • Facilitating easier, more frequent contact with family members and community organizations during incarceration and including family members in reentry planning
    • Providing job placement services for all incarcerated individuals as they approach release
    • Removing bans on occupational licenses for individuals with criminal records, if the benefit of the employment opportunity vastly outweighs any public safety concern, as is the case for many occupations requiring licenses
    • Creating additional transitional housing with supporting services for reentering individuals, using state-local and public-private partnerships to address financing, service, and siting issues

    A case management approach will be far more successful if these barriers are removed. Conversely, removing these barriers will be far more impactful if paired with a case management approach.

    The potential for a national transformation of reentry policy and practice

    The Reentry Ready Project stakeholders acknowledge that each jurisdiction is unique, and that responsible actors and systems must address many complexities to encompass a coordinated, collaborative approach to reentry. However, the stakeholders believe that every jurisdiction in this country can achieve major gains by moving in the direction they advocate.

    They base their belief on strong evidence, not on hope. Anticipated gains to individuals and communities include improved public safety, enhanced quality of life in the communities to which incarcerated individuals are returning, and better life outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals and their families. Strong public and private leadership will enable actors and systems to help currently and formerly incarcerated individuals achieve a successful reentry and reap its benefits.

    “Structural racism and stigma from a felony conviction puts crucial public support systems out of reach for many returning citizens. Because of the way public agencies operate, anyone convicted of a felony, regardless of their crime or how long they have been out of prison, such individuals are placed at the bottom of waiting lists for services already in short supply.”

    Dr. Keesha Middlemass, Associate Professor, Howard University

    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