Prisoner Reentry

By Wheeler, Darrell P.; Patterson, George | Health and Social Work, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Prisoner Reentry


Wheeler, Darrell P., Patterson, George, Health and Social Work


Prisoners often experience multiple problems when reentering communities, including substance abuse; mental illness; HIV and AIDS; lack of education; unemployment; homelessness; legal barriers to receiving public services, such as bans on obtaining public assistance; public housing restrictions and limited transitional housing options; difficulty obtaining state-issued identification; an uncoordinated social services delivery system; an overburdened parole system; and the lack of alternative sentencing options and sanctions (National Governors Association, 2005). Because these problems are not unassociated with preexisting problems of poverty, racism, and community social disorder, many people released from prisons and other incarcerated settings often find themselves caught in environments with too few options for making or sustaining successful reentry.

Reentry, is a term used to describe programs and services designed to help former prisoners successfully reintegrate into communities following their release from jails and prisons and to address the multiple problems that they experience. A case management approach is the most frequently used method to coordinate services (U.S. Department of Justice, n.d.). Petersilia (2003) defined reentry as "all activities and programming conducted to prepare ex-convicts to return safely to the community and to live as law abiding citizens" (p. 3). Consequently, reentry emphasizes the provision of needed services and avoidance of future criminal behavior.

The most recent prisoner reentry data show that in 2001, 592,000 state prisoners were released into the community (Hughes & Wilson, 2002). Such statistics led President Bush to address the issue of reentry in his 2004 State of the Union address. In his address, President Bush proposed a four-year demonstration grant program that allocated $300 million for the Prisoner Reentry Initiative (PRI) (The White House, 2004). Subsequently. services intended to strengthen urban communities and reduce recidivism were provided by faith-based and community organizations that included job training and placement, transitional housing services, mentoring assistance, and other transitional services for former prisoners (U.S. Department of Labor, 2007a).

During the first year of the program, 30 grantees provided 43,495 services to 6,442 former prisoners, and 3,378 former prisoners obtained employment (U.S. Department of Labor, 2007b). Early data describing PRI recidivism rates are promising and show that the recidivism rate was 20 percent, representing less than one-half the Bureau of Justice Statistics national figure of 44 percent ("Faith-based and community initiatives," n.d.).

A wide variety of services are needed upon reentry. Seiter and Kadela (2003) reviewed 32 published studies to identify effective reentry services and programs. The authors found that vocational training and work release programs were effective for reducing recidivism and improving job readiness skills; drug treatment was effective for reducing drug use, recidivism, drug-related crimes, and parole violations: educational programs increased educational achievement scores but did not decrease recidivism; halfway house programs reduced severe criminal behavior; and prerelease programs reduced recidivism. Hartwell (2005) emphasized the need for the coordination of community services organized around the complexities exigent realities facing the reentry population (that is, health, mental health, employment, housing, substance abuse, and so forth). Given the need for a wide variety of services, there is little question that social work skills could benefit reentry programs. What may be at question is whether social workers and other social service and health care professionals are really ready to meet the many needs of this socially stigmatized population of men and women (Freudenberg, 2006). A major component of this work involves critical examination of the roles, functions, and outcomes of U. …

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