Reentry programs need coordination, more carrots and sticks, says DOJ-sponsored report

Reentry programs can be an effective strategy against recidivism, but not enough prisoners are released into such programs, according to a recent report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. MassINC also called for stronger reentry programs in a report released last month, “Crime, Cost, and Consequences: Is it Time to Get Smart on Crime?

Lessons Learned: Planning and Assessing a Law Enforcement Reentry Strategy,” produced by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, stresses the need for collaboration among criminal-justice agencies and potential partners such as mayor’s offices and providers of mental-health services. The report also explores ways to bring more participants into reentry programs that may not be part of formal sentencing. “

The reality is that the majority of people who leave correctional facilities fail to reintegrate with their communities successfully, but instead commit new crimes or violate the conditions of their release and are reincarcerated,” the authors state in the report’s introduction. Lessons Learned examines four jurisdictions in detail — Las Vegas, Nevada; Muskegon, Michigan; Washington, D.C., and White Plains, New York — but it singles out Boston in a section on the need for hard data to evaluate reentry programs:

Boston Reentry Initiative (BRI) coordinators […] enlisted the expertise of a third party to evaluate their program’s effectiveness. BRI started collecting data on its participants from the start of the initiative, and identified early on the benefits of bringing in an academic partner to conduct the analysis and evaluation. Coordinators also recognized that academic partners can be particularly helpful in this role because they have both the skill set to conduct a sound analysis and the impartiality that lends credibility to their findings. To evaluate the reentry initiative, researchers examined the arrest data of participants and of a matched control group for up to three years immediately after release from jail. The study’s results indicated that BRI participation was associated with a 30 percent reduction in the arrest rate.

Lessons Learned also recommends a variety of methods to integrate former prisoners into a community, stressing that  “In order for a reentry initiative to be effective, programmatic components must include both a ‘carrot’ (a benefit for participation) and a ‘stick’ (certain punishment for non-compliance).” The authors cite White Plains as an example of a city where law-enforcement and social-services agencies work together to ensure that those released from corrections facilities do not fall through the cracks:

In White Plains, the majority of people leaving prison have completed their sentence while incarcerated and are not under community corrections supervision upon their release. Without this supervisory component, reentry coordinators redefined “enhanced supervision” as a strong network of service providers engaging program participants to hold them accountable and encourage their success. By holding monthly case conferencing meetings, law enforcement and the service providers are able to strategize on how to best influence individual participants. As a result of the close partnerships among agencies, [people released from prison] learned quickly that they could rely on service providers to hold them accountable for following through on referrals for job interviews, alternative education classes, and other support services, which were part of the reentry effort.

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