Saving Our Criminal Justice System: The Efficacy of a Collaborative Social Service

By Yamatani, Hide; Spjeldnes, Solveig | Social Work, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Saving Our Criminal Justice System: The Efficacy of a Collaborative Social Service


Yamatani, Hide, Spjeldnes, Solveig, Social Work


The Second Chance Act of 2007 (EL. 110-199), signed in 2008, marked a fundamental shift toward rehabilitation to achieve successful community reentry for offenders, an endeavor in which social workers can play a major role (Eckholm, 2008).The act authorizes services to reverse skyrocketing incarceration rates and costs. It provides state and local grants to government and nonprofit groups for services--including housing, health, drug treatment, and employment--and encourages pilot programs to test the effectiveness of reintegration and diversion programs for nonviolent offenders. This article reports on an effort supported by this act and best practice--the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative (ACJC) system, which is operated by jail and social service agencies--showing a 50 percent reduction in recidivism rates (Mellow, Mukamal, LoBuglio, Solomon, & Osborne, 2008; Solomon, 2008). Based on its success, we posit that such a collaborative system can serve as a model for communities throughout the country to aid jail inmates, reduce criminal justice and societal costs, and increase public safety.

For decades, the "get tough" approach that fit the mood of a crime-weary public led to three interrelated criminal justice challenges and some startling statistics. The first challenge is out-of-control incarceration rates. The United States represents only 5 percent of the world's population, but we hold 25 percent of the world's inmates in our prisons and jails (Pew Center on the States, 2008). We have more people behind bars in total numbers and per capita than any other industrialized country--2.3 million out of nearly 300 million (750 per 100,000 residents)--one out of 100 U.S. adults. Annually, an estimated 12 million people cycle in and out of nearly 3,500 U.S. jails (Beck, 2006). On a typical day in mid-2008, 776,573 individuals were in jail, up from 618,319 in 2000 (Minton & Sabol, 2009). The same study reported that 258 per 100,000 U.S. residents were in jail custody (up from 226 in 2000)--nearly all of whom would reenter society. The U.S. aggregated corrections costs rose from $12 billion in 1987 to $49 billion in 2007, $20 billion of which was for jails and local criminal justice (Hughes, 2006).

The second challenge is high recidivism rates. Langan and Levin (2002) found that 44 percent of former offenders were rearrested within 12 months after release (Langan & Levin, 2002). Plus, black men and women have been found to recidivate at higher rates than their white counterparts (Bureau of Justice Statistics, n.d.; Kansal, 2005; LaVigne, Visher, & Castro, 2004; Sabol, Minton, & Harrison, 2007).

The third challenge is the racial disparity among incarcerated individuals (Bonczar, 2003; Kansal, 2005; Langan & Levin, 2002; LaVigne et al., 2004; Sabol et al., 2007). The mid-2008 U.S. jail inmate populations were 42.5 percent white, 39.2 percent African American, and 16.4 percent Hispanic/ Latino, despite an overall population representation of 12.8 percent African American and 14.8 percent Hispanic (Minton & Sabol, 2009; Sabol et al., 2007). One in nine African Americans between the ages of 20 and 34 were incarcerated (Pew Center on the States, 2008). Nearly one-third of African American men will be incarcerated during their lifetime, compared with 6 percent for white men (Bonczar, 2003).

In most jurisdictions, jail administrators are not held accountable for reentry outcomes (Solomon, 2008). In fact, few jails track recidivism rates. Their focus has traditionally been public safety, so keeping inmates in custody and under control have been the primary goals. Growing recognition of the social and cost benefits of rehabilitation have spurred jail officials to seek collaborative reentry programs with public health and social service agencies. These efforts are mostly in their early stages. Although the Urban Institute has reported that most jails provide some reentry services, comprehensive best practice, community-based reintegration interventions are rare (Jucovy, 2006; Solomon, 2008). …

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