Reentry is a challenge many offenders face once they are incarcerated and released into society. The term “reentry’” is a synonym for return and is defined as the act of going back to a prior place, location, situation or setting. Prison re-entry refers to the transition of offenders from prisons or jails back into the community. The concept of life in society is an important part of any reintegration of institutionalized people, including people who have been incarcerated for committing a crime. The institutionalization of a population leads to isolation, segregation and detachment of the elements of a company defining the basis of citizenship.
Although individuals often returning to the community focus more on the choice of where they dwell, their long-term success in society is more likely to be dependent on the social roles they have chosen to play, to the extent that they will engage in the community and they have been prepared for this purpose during their incarceration or institutionalization. Reentry can help reduce recidivism as well as assist those who have been previously incarcerated to begin leading law abiding lives once released into society. However, overtime the importance of prisoner reentry has been drastically lowered with less emphasis on helping those to prepare for their release and with post release community integration. As a result, the shortage of reentry programs and limited responsibility of probation or parole to assist in re-entry; the rate at which people return to prison or jail is high.
Keywords: reentry, recidivism, institutionalization
Re-Entry and Its Effects: Institutional and Post Release
Those who are incarcerated do not only serve time inside their prison cell, they also serve time once they are released. There are many barriers that one faces once they are released such as they are denied the right to vote, access to public assistance, ineligible for food stamps and/or subsidized housing, and some cannot even apply for financial aid. The main problem revolving around those returning home from incarceration is the limited access to rehabilitation and assistance. The Second Chance Act of 2007 was passed on April 9, 2008 and became Public Law 110-199. The Second Chance Act provides a second chance to those reentering society from incarceration.
It helps people released from prison turn their lives around and encourages employers to give returning citizens a second chance to contribute to the greater good of the local economy. In this paper I would like to I would like to point out the positive effects of successful reentry and its ability to lower recidivism. I will also discuss the Second Chance Act in further detail, which was created to provide funding for reentry programs. I will further discuss the roles of Probation and Parole and propose how their roles can be shifted to enhance successful community reintegration. I will finally explain how American values and ideologies play a significant role in resolving the issues behind reentry and the obstacles that prisoners are facing through their difficult journey to successful reintegration.
What is reentry and why is it important to society? Reentry is the process by which one is incarcerated, finishes his or her sentence and is released into society. They are either released because their sentence has been fulfilled, or on parole or probation. If reentry is unsuccessful, the prisoner will usually return to prison, this action is defined as recidivism. Recidivism can be determined by the number of prisoners being released from incarceration into society and then returning to prison. Recidivism is usually identified through arrest, reconviction, or incarceration of those who have reentered society. When released from prison, inmates who enter society are a very unstable group. Hence the reason for the problem of the reentry process as well as its programs.
According to Taxman, Young and Byrne the reentry programs should include three or more phases designed to transition the inmate into the community. The first phase would begin in the institution with service delivery congruent with the inmate’s needs. The second phase would begin as the inmate is released from the institution. The inmate’s risks and needs may
change significantly as he or she enters the community context. Ideally, the individual would continue in treatment services and case plans would be updated as needed. The final phase is an aftercare or relapse prevention phase where clients would receive ongoing support and services to address their needs (Taxman et al. 2003)
The problem with reentry begins with the Corrections part of our Criminal Justice System. While inmates are incarcerated they receive treatment for any health issues as well as various programs to help them upon release. However, the problem with the programs is that they are not being reassessed to determine whether or not they had an impact on the offenders’ risk of future criminal behavior. This process should begin once the offender returns into the community and also while they are under supervision. The results of the reassessment should then guide any changes within the offenders’ treatment plan as well as determine the effectiveness of the programs for future inmates or offenders’.
The Second Chance Act of 2007 was created to reauthorize the grant program for reentry of offenders into the community in the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. It was created to improve reentry planning and implementation and for other purposes as well. The act was introduced on March 20, 2007 by House Congressional representative, Danny Davis of Illinois. The act further had ninety-two (92) co-sponsors and was simultaneously introduced in the Senate by Joseph Biden of Delaware. After a little over a year in the House and the Senate, the Second Chance Act of 2007 was finally signed into law on April 9, 2008 by President Bush as Public Law No. 110-199.
There are several purposes for the creation of this act. The act was created to break the cycle of criminal recidivism, increase public safety and to better address the growing population of criminal offenders returning to society. It was also created to rebuild the ties between offenders and their families which will in turn promote stable families. The Second Chance Act will further expand the availability of substance abuse facilities, alternatives to incarceration and comprehensive reentry services.
The Second Chance Act of 2007 will further protect the public and promote law-abiding conduct by providing the necessary services to offenders while they are incarcerated and after they reenter the community. It will finally provide offenders in prison, jails, or juvenile facilities with educational, vocational, literacy and job placement services to facilitate a more effective and productive reentry. The Second Chance Act of 2007 highlights all the main areas where reentry is currently lacking. It will create a healthy environment, allowing the prisoner to have a chance at successful reentry.
It will also reauthorize adult and juvenile offender state and local reentry projects as well as improve residential substance abuse treatment for state offenders. The Second Chance Act of 2007 will offer several new reentry initiatives. It will create state, local and tribal reentry courts. Further, it will create drug treatment alternatives to prison, and offer grants for family-based substance abuse treatment. It will further provide grants to evaluate and improve education at prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities and technology career training. This will break down the long standing barriers to successful reentry. The act will further provide the much needed steps to assure public safety and recovery.
Some were skeptical to pass the Second Chance Act because they stated that not enough research has been done on what works with reentry. In response, Representative Jones of Ohio stated, “We can’t study anymore. We have studied. There are all kinds of studies that have shown that community reentry works. There are all kinds of programs that say diversion works. And there are a lot of young people out here who don’t have a mother or father that is a judge or prosecutor or congresswoman or a state representative to call and say I am a good person. They need us to say in the world that young people, older people, whatever their age, who have been involved in the criminal justice system, paid their dues. They need a chance and we ought to give them the second chance” (Congressional Record, 2007).
Ones views of criminal justice come from their values and ideologies. Although America can be seen as a very lenient country as far as their values, people do have very strong feelings towards crime, criminals and prisoner reentry. American values include work ethic, personal responsibility, family, individual equality and the goodness of humanity. Americans see themselves as individuals who are different from all other individuals. They consider themselves as separate individuals who are responsible for their own actions and situations in life (Key American Values).
Americans further believe that everyone is of equal value. Americans assume that human nature is basically good and that those who have motivation can achieve any goal set. Finally, Americans have a strong value with regards to work. They admire those who work hard and achieve. A hard worker is one who “gets right to work” on a task without delay, works efficiently, and completes the task in a way that meets reasonably high standards of quality (Key American Values).
Although there are many perspectives that involve criminal justice, the main values of the American society revolve around the issues of reentry. People believe that individuals must be held responsible for their actions. Many individuals believe that there is no way anyone could repay their debt to society after committing a crime. They further feel that those who have been incarcerated have an option to live good lives and achieve their goals but instead choose the easy way out. It is unfortunate that many Americans do not see the realities of society and the realities of the environments that many of the offenders returning home from prison came from and unfortunately will probably be returning to.
There are two main ideologies in America; conservatives and liberals. Conservatives believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense. Liberals believe in governmental action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all, and that it is the duty of the State to alleviate social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights (Conservatives vs. Liberal Beliefs, 2013).
Although Conservatives and Liberals differ immensely, there are those people who are on the borderline of both ideologies. Many Americans hold a prejudice against criminals based on their label. However, regardless of a persons’ values or ideologies, America’s view on criminal justice has shifted over the years. The shift has almost created the mind set of many Americans. The belief that punishment is necessary and that the only way that punishment can be achieved is through incarceration.
The roles of Probation and Parole are to supervise the offenders once released into society. Probation and parole was designed as an alternative to prison overcrowding. It was merely based on the idea that people can change and will stop their frequent, dysfunctional behavior if given the correct opportunity. This ability to change in conjunction with community safety, allow appropriate offenders to be monitored while showing that they can be productive members of society. Probation and parole officers’ roles in regards to reentry are to assist, supervise and ensure that this does occur with each offender. In most cases they help offenders find housing, jobs, as well as provide structure and support for rehabilitation.
While doing so, they are to protect communities by monitoring each offender through meetings, random home and work visits, and sometimes using a global positioning system also knows as a GPS device which tracks an offenders every move. All of the information they obtain regarding each offender, especially any violation of probation, is reported to the courts to then decide whether or not to revoke probation and send the offender to prison.
Based on my research of the proposed topic of prison reentry, I personally believe there are several ways we could improve the process as well as our programs. First I think we should evaluate and reassess what is working and what is not working. Prisoners who are receiving treatment should continue their treatment even after they are released into society. The programs that are administered to inmates while incarcerated should be reevaluated so we can determine if they really are effective. Based on my research, it seems as if we offer programs to the inmates while incarcerated but once released into society they pretty much on their own.
We leave it up to them to make the transition from jail or prison to society. We should be with them every step of the way and offer more assistance for them to rebuild their lives. This is part of the reason why the revolving door exist with some inmates. The help and encouragement should begin while incarcerated. Then once released into society through probation or parole, it’s up to those officers to assist the offender in rebuilding their life. They should spend time actually getting to know the offender, communicating with the regularly, help them find a job and a place to call their own.
The federal government recognized and acknowledged the problem of reentry due to efforts such as the Second Chance Act of 2007. This act aided in the implementation of several programs and foundations that would assist in reentry. Hopefully, over a period of time data and research will be collected to evaluate the effectiveness of each program. This data should start once the offender enters the program while incarcerated until they are released into society and under supervision. This data will then allow the country as a whole to develop a successful model to be used in aiding the difficult transition from incarceration to society.
Many of those who are currently incarcerated are young, non-violent, first time offenders who make stupid mistakes and deserve a second chance. As stated within this paper, there are various reasons why prison reentry is important to our criminal justice system as well as society. It’s up to us to acknowledge this ongoing problem and do what it takes reduce recidivism and do what it takes to prepare inmates before they are released into society. As stated by Representative Norton from the District of Columbia, “inmates are now coming home, let’s not make it any worse than it was in condemning them disproportionately under the cocaine guidelines. We owe it to their communities to help them return and become good citizens” (Congressional Record, 2007).
Visher, Christy A. and Jeremy Travis. (2003) Transitions from Prison to Community: Understanding Individual Pathways. Annual Review Sociology. Vol. 29, 2003, pp. 89-113. Harrison, Byron and Robert Carl Schehr. (2004). Offenders and Post Release Jobs: Variables Influencing Success and Failure. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, Vol. 39, No. 3, 2004, pp. 35-68 Key American Values. 1994-1995. Retrieved from online on April 2014 http://www.umsl.edu/~intelstu/Admitted%20Students/Visitor%20Handbook/keyvalues.html Congressional Record – House, (2007) Retrieved from online on April 2014 http://beta.congress.gov/congressional-record/2007/11/13/house-section/articl