Reentry in Ohio Corrections: A Catalyst for Change

Article excerpt

Abstract

In 2002, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) published The Ohio Plan for Productive Offender Reentry and Recidivism Reduction. The document listed forty-four recommendations designed to contribute significantly to the development of a reentry transition system that providing a seamless service and program delivery beginning at sentencing and admission to prison through confinement to discharge from parole or post-release control. As part of this process, DRC redefined its mission and vision for reentry to emphasize continuity in service provision during and after incarceration, and the inclusion of the community in the reentry process. It embarked upon a journey to ensure that reentry means "Going Home to Stay." In addition to The Ohio Plan, DRC has embraced far-reaching and innovative reentry-oriented initiatives. This article reviews the major reentry initiatives that have been implemented by DRC through and subsequent to the adoption of The Ohio Plan.

Introduction

In recent years, criminal justice policy makers and scholars have recognized that an emphasis on prisoner reentry is essential for the reduction of recidivism and the successful assimilation of returning offenders back into their communities (Mauer & Chesney-Lind, 2002; Petersilia, 2003). Initiatives have been undertaken throughout government to ensure that correctional agencies and communities work together in responding to prisoner reentry (see for example, La Vigne, Mamalian & Travis, 2003; La Vigne, Thomson, Visher, Kachnowski, 9 Travis, 2003 or Visher, La Vigne, & Travis, 2004). More than four years ago out of intense concern that not enough was being done to prepare adult offenders to return home as contributing members of their communities, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) launched a comprehensive reexamination of offender reentry.

Prisoners returning to the community confront a multitude of issues. Nationally approximately 600,000 inmates return to the community from jails and prisons - many of whom return within a short period of time. In Ohio approximately 39% of offenders released into the community return within three years (Bureau of Research, personal communication, April 5, 2005). Frequently, these offenders return home with educational and employment skill deficits. Nearly 30% of offenders in Ohio have mental health issues, and approximately half have suspected learning disabilities (La Vigne et al. 2003). They are less connected to the community and, consequently, have difficulties finding housing and reconnecting with families (La Vigne et al. 2003). Most of those returning to the community from which they were sentenced suffer from substance abuse, face mental health issues, and are not linked with community service providers. A 2004 Ohio Intake Study reported that over 70% of incoming inmates had an indication of a history of drug abuse (Bureau of Research, 2003). Similarly, an analysis of recovery services participants revealed that just over 14% required intensive outpatient services (Recovery Services, 2004).

In an effort to respond to inmates' reentry needs in Ohio, numerous initiatives have been pursued by DRC. Some have been prompted by the availability of Federal grants like the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) administered by the U.S. Department of Justice. Most are a result of DRCs resolution 'to get it right' with regard to contributing to safer communities, and making sure that ex-offenders are better off at the time of release than at the time of their admission to prison.

This article describes the initiatives established by DRC as part of its effort to implement a coordinated systems approach to offender reentry. The article begins with a brief overview of The Ohio Plan for Productive Offender Reentry and Recidivism Reduction (2002). A review of the most salient reentry initiatives introduced over the past four years is then presented. …