Recidivism among Participants of a Reentry Program for Prisoners Released without Supervision

Article excerpt

As higher numbers of individuals are released from prison and rejoin society, reentry programs can help former offenders reintegrate into society without continuing to engage in crime. This quasi-experimental study examined whether participation in reentry programming was associated with reduced recidivism among offenders who were no longer under criminal justice supervision. Offenders who completed their sentences in prison were invited to participate in Project Re-Connect (PRC), a six-month, voluntary prisoner reentry program. Following participants' release from prison, PRC provided case management and direct monetary support to participants for up to six months. Survival analysis was used to compare recidivism rates between 122 PRC participants and 158 eligible non-participants. Cox regression coefficients indicated that program participation and having a high school diploma or its equivalent were associated with reduced likelihood of new convictions, whereas substance abuse was associated with higher risk of subsequent convictions. The implications for social work policy and practice are discussed.

KEY WORDS: case management; former offenders; prisoner reentry; program evaluation

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The U.S. prison population has grown exponentially over the past 30 years, at great cost to taxpayers and offenders alike. Between 1980 and 2008, the prison population expanded by 475%, reaching 1,518,559 in 2008 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010). Policy changes fueled this rapid growth, as many states adopted mandatory and determinant sentencing guidelines that resulted in more individuals serving longer prison terms. Meanwhile, stricter parole requirements returned mote ex-offenders to prison on technical parole violations (Seiter & Kadela, 2003; Zhang, Roberts, & Callanan, 2006). Parole violators who complete their sentences in prison are no longer subject to supervision once released from prison, thereby restricting society's ability to monitor and assist these individuals during reentry (Braga, Piehl, & Hureau, 2009; O'Brien, 2009; Seiter & Kadela, 2003).

The number and the rate of inmates released without parole supervision have increased even over the last decade, as the number of unsupervised releases grew from 118,886 in 2000 (20.4% of all released) to 165,568 in 2008 (24.2% of all releases) (Sabol, West, & Cooper, 2009; Seiter & Kadela, 2003). Former offenders commit crimes at higher rates than the general population, so in combination with technical parole violations, many ex-offenders recidivate and return to prison within the first few years of release (Brad et al., 2009). As of 1994, more than two-thirds of state prisoners were rearrested for one or more serious crimes within three years of release. Almost half of those released returned to prison during that time frame for parole violations or new convictions (Langan & Levin, 2002).

Prisoner reentry has become a critical topic as communities prepare to absorb increasing numbers of returning former offenders; 683,106 inmates were released from state or federal prisons in 2008, an increase of nearly 20% over the number released in 2000 (Petersilia, 2003; Roman & Travis, 2006; Sabol et al., 2009; Seiter & Kadda, 2003; Wilson & Davis, 2006). Reentry programs have been developed nationwide to address offender needs and smooth the transition from prison into the community.

RISK FACTORS FOR REENTRY, CURRENT PRACTICE, AND EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE

Several risk factors increase the likelihood that ex-offenders will return to prison on new charges. These risk factors include age, gender, race, gang membership, substance abuse, antisocial behavior, low social achievement, negative peers, length of prior criminal history, and the number of years incarcerated before release (Braga et al., 2009; Gendreau, Little, & Goggin, 1996; Huebner, Varano, & Bynum, 2007; Langan & Levin, 2002; Listwan, 2009; O'Brien, 2009; Seiter & Kadela, 2003; Wheeler & Patterson, 2008; Wilson & Davis, 2006; Yahner & Visher, 2008). …