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The Dimensions, Pathways, and Consequences of Youth Reentry

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Document date: January 31, 2004
Released online: January 31, 2004

Prepared with funding support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the California Endowment

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


Acknowledgments

The authors wish to express their gratitude to Michael Wald, Senior Advisor on children and health issues to the President of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Gwen Foster, Program Officer at the California Endowment, for the support and assistance with the Youth Reentry Roundtable, held in San Francisco, California, May 28-29, 2003.

We thank Dionne Davis, Project Associate, and Asheley Van Ness, Research Assistant, at the Urban Institute, for their invaluable assistance in coordinating the roundtable meeting and providing editorial suggestions. Jeffrey Butts, Director of the Urban Institute's Program on Youth Justice, Amy Solomon, Policy Associate in the Institute's Justice Policy Center, and Matthew Stagner, Director of the Institute's Population Studies Center, provided ongoing suggestions and guidance throughout the project. Jeff's knowledge of the juvenile justice system and his emphasis on the need to clearly distinguish between the different groups of young people experiencing reentry were particularly helpful.

Finally, we wish to thank the authors of the five papers commissioned for the Roundtable, the participants who ensured that the discussion of the papers was lively and informative, and the observers who, we hope, will help with the dissemination of the many critical insights raised during the meeting.

This report distills the many observations and lessons learned during the two-day meeting of the Youth Reentry Roundtable and draws heavily on the insights articulated in the five papers commissioned for the Roundtable and by the participants at the Roundtable. The Youth Reentry Roundtable papers, along with a modified version of this report as an introductory article, are available in their entirety through Sage Publications' special issue of Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice (January 2004, vol. 2, no. 1) , a policy-oriented peerreview journal. The papers are listed below, along with information for contacting the publisher. One-page summaries of the authors' papers and a summary of the meeting are provided in an appendix to this report.

The full set of papers resulting from the Youth Reentry Roundtable can be found in a special issue of Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice (January 2004, vol. 2, no. 1), available directly from Sage Publications (www.sagepub.com, 800-818-7243).

Youth Development and Reentry
by Daniel P. Mears and Jeremy Travis

Reentry of Young Offenders from the Justice System: A Developmental Perspective
by Laurence Steinberg, He Len Chung, and Michelle Little

An Empirical Portrait of the Youth Reentry Population
by Howard N. Snyder

Youth Perspectives on the Experience of Reentry
by Mercer Sullivan

Adolescent and Teenage Offenders Confronting the Challenges and Opportunities of Reentry
by David M. Altschuler and Rachel Brash

Interventions and Services Offered to Former Juvenile Offenders Re-entering Their Communities: An Analysis of Program Effectiveness
by Margaret B. Spencer and Cheryl Jones-Walker

The Reentry Roundtable Series

One of the most profound challenges facing American society is the reintegration of more than 700,000 individuals—including 200,000 juveniles and young adults age 24 and under—who leave state and federal adult prisons and juvenile correctional facilities and return home each year. The four-fold increase in incarceration rates over the past 25 years has had far-reaching consequences. One and a half million children have a parent in prison. Four million citizens have lost their right to vote. Prisoners leave correctional facilities with little preparation for life on the outside, no assistance with reintegration, and a high likelihood of return to prison for new crimes or parole violations. Of particular concern is the impact of this damaging cycle of removal and return of large numbers of juveniles and young adults. At the time of their arrest and incarceration, they typically are undergoing rapid physical, mental, and emotional changes. The reality of reentry creates specific challenges for these young people, their families, and the community at large.

The meeting that provided the impetus for this report—The Youth Dimensions of Prisoner Reentry: Youth Development and the Impacts of Incarceration and Reentry—is the sixth in a series of roundtables initiated by the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center as part of a policy research initiative to advance understanding of prisoner reentry. The Reentry Roundtable series, which is co-chaired by Jeremy Travis, Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute, and Dr. Joan Petersilia, professor at the University of California, Irvine, has resulted in the following meetings:

  • For the first Reentry Roundtable, the Urban Institute invited academics, practitioners, service providers, and community leaders to Washington, D.C. to examine sentencing and public safety issues from health, substance abuse, labor market, racial, community, family, and gender perspectives (October 2000).
  • The second Roundtable was held in New York City and explored the impact of state policies on returning prisoners, families, and communities and discussed the Urban Institute's Returning Home research study (March 2001).
  • The third—Prisoner Reentry and the Institutions of Civil Society: Barriers and Bridges to Successful Integration (March 2002)—focused on the role of society's civil institutions in facilitating the reintegration of former prisoners.
  • The fourth—Public Health Dimensions of Prisoner Reentry: Addressing the Health Needs and Risks of Returning Prisoners and Their Families (December 2002)— examined the health needs and risks of returning prisoners.
  • The fifth—Employment Dimensions of Prisoner Reentry: Understanding the Nexus between Prisoner Reentry and Work (May 2003)—described the opportunities for improving employment prospects of returning prisoners.

Little is known about the impact of current incarceration policies or the ingredients of successful transitions to community life for juveniles and young adults. The aim of the Youth Reentry Roundtable was to generate a national discussion about the unique challenges involved in reintegrating young people back into their families and communities, and to offer policymakers a critical opportunity to develop effective programs and policies for improving the impacts of the reentry process.

Preface

Approximately 200,000 juveniles and young adults age 24 and under leave secure juvenile correctional facilities or state and federal prisons and return home each year—a process that we call youth reentry.

The unprecedented growth in incarceration means that communities across the country increasingly must confront the challenges of integrating ever-growing numbers of young people who have been in adult prisons or prison-like settings operated by the juvenile justice system. Because young people in their teens and early twenties undergo considerable physical, mental, and emotional changes, the process and experience of youth reentry may fundamentally differ from what adults face. Such differences may be compounded by new and changing social expectations as they transition from adolescence to adulthood and from middle school to high school. Throughout, youth may face numerous obstacles, including family dysfunction, poverty, drug abuse, and inadequate education, treatment, and services, all of which may not only contribute to criminal behavior but also to their success during reentry in avoiding crime and becoming a contributing member of society.

In recognition of the critical importance of this issue, the Urban Institute convened, with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the California Endowment, a special meeting of the Reentry Roundtable, The Youth Dimensions of Prisoner Reentry: Youth Development and the Impacts of Incarceration and Reentry, held May 28-29, 2003, in San Francisco, California. The goal of the two-day meeting was to generate a national discussion about the unique challenges involved in reintegrating young people back into their families and communities, and to offer policymakers a critical opportunity to improve outcomes.

Five papers were commissioned for the meeting, each of which tackled a different topic. The first, by Laurence Steinberg, He Len Chung, and Michelle Little (Temple University), described dimensions of youth development and their relevance for reentry. The second, by Howard Snyder (National Center for Juvenile Justice), provided an empirical portrait of youth reentry, describing the scope and magnitude of this problem. The third, by Mercer Sullivan (Rutgers University), depicted how youth who are released from secure confinement experience the process of reentry. The fourth, by David Altschuler and Rachel Brash (Johns Hopkins University), detailed the many challenges to ensuring successful youth reentry. And the last, by Margaret Spencer and Cheryl Jones-Walker (University of Pennsylvania), summarized the programming and developmental needs of youth during reentry, identifying dimensions of best practices and racial/ethnic, cultural, and gender considerations of effective programs.

These papers have been published by Sage Publications in a special issue of Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice (January 2004, vol. 2, no. 1), a policy-oriented peer-review journal, copies of which can be obtained directly from Sage (www.sagepub.com, 800-818-7243).

In this report, we describe youth reentry and its policy relevance to communities nationwide. Drawing liberally from the insights and comments of the authors and participants in the Youth Reentry Roundtable, we identify critical facts about youth reentry, including the specific programming and policy challenges that must be addressed. We then provide recommendations for next steps in research and practice, and call for the following:

  • A reorientation of the juvenile and criminal justice systems to focus on reintegration of young offenders into society,
  • Creation of reentry programs that reflect a youth development perspective and that address the unique role of race/ethnicity and gender,
  • Inclusion of communities and family networks in reentry initiatives, and
  • Development of a national agenda for public education and research.

The report's appendices provide a listing of the Roundtable authors and participants, a brief description of each paper, and a summary of each of the paper presentations and the ensuing discussions.

If effective youth reentry practices are to become a reality, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers will need clear guidance about how to think about and develop interventions that are appropriate to the needs of youth and the capacities of families and communities. It is our hope that this report serves to highlight the unique importance of youth reentry and what can be done to ensure the successful transition of young people back into their families and communities so that they can become contributing members of society.

Introduction

The tough-on-crime policies of the last decade have contributed to a dramatic increase in the incarceration of young people, and thus an equally dramatic increase in the number transitioning back into communities, schools, and families. Yet much remains unknown about this population and how best to ensure that young people released from prison will become contributing members of society. Fortunately, and as we describe in this report, there are promising directions for programs, policies, and research that address this critical policy issue.

America currently faces the daunting task of reintegrating approximately 200,000 juveniles and young adults ages 24 and under who leave secure juvenile correctional facilities or state and federal prisons and return home each year—a process that we call youth reentry.1 The unprecedented growth in incarceration means that communities across the country increasingly must confront the challenges of integrating evergrowing numbers of young people who have been in adult prisons or prison-like settings operated by the juvenile justice system. Few of them will receive high quality treatment or programming while in custody. Many have physical, mental health, and substance abuse problems. Many have children. Yet most have never graduated from high school, held a job, or lived independently. And many are returning to communities where poverty, unemployment, homelessness, drug addiction, and crime are endemic.

The magnitude of the youth reentry problem and the challenges associated with it raise profound policy issues. Young people reentering society after periods of incarceration frequently have difficulty making successful transitions and avoiding lives of crime. We know, for example, that up to two-thirds of youth will be rearrested and up to one-third will be reincarcerated within a few years after release (Krisberg, Austin, and Steele 1991; Krisberg and Howell 1998; Bureau of Data and Research 1999). Some youth will succeed, of course, completing high school and possibly going on to college, finding work and housing, developing healthy peer and family relationships, and achieving other milestones typically associated with becoming a healthy adult—but many will not.

Unfortunately, even a cursory glance at the research literature and the policy landscape reveals just how little is known about the transition of young people from prisons to communities or how best to increase the likelihood that the transitions are successful. The issue clearly concerns many state governments, and has helped prompt the Federal government to provide over $31 million for the Young Offender Initiative (U.S. Department of Labor 2003) and $100 million for the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (Office of Justice Programs 2002). Nonetheless, the foundation for systematically understanding and addressing the challenges of youth reentry remains largely undeveloped.

The new level of policy interest indicates that a unique opportunity exists to address an important policy issue that clearly has many ramifications both for young people and society. The goal of the Urban Institute's Youth Reentry Roundtable was to bring together researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and community leaders to help foster new ways of thinking about youth reentry that will contribute to informed research and policymaking.

The Roundtable took as a central premise that the reentry experience may differ in important ways between young people and adults. For this reason, the Urban Institute commissioned five papers to focus on different dimensions of youth reentry, with a particular emphasis on youth development. Given this emphasis, we purposely viewed youth reentry as including juveniles, legally defined, and young adults, since youth development does not stop simply because an individual's legal status changes. This approach also ensured that potential similarities and differences between younger and older released prisoners could be better highlighted. The Roundtable provided an opportunity for people with diverse experiences and knowledge to comment on the papers and raise critical and potentially overlooked or neglected issues.

Our goals here are to synthesize some of the insights of the authors and Roundtable participants; to draw attention to the range of issues bearing on youth reentry; to orient researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to these issues; and to encourage those interested in youth reentry to read the published articles, which are available in a special issue of Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice (January 2004, vol. 2, no. 1) published by Sage Publications.

We begin first by defining youth reentry and the scope of this problem, and then describe the implications of a youth development perspective for understanding and examining youth reentry. Next, we focus on the experience of youth reentry, challenges to successful reintegration of youth into communities, and strategies for improving youth reentry in ways that address the diverse and unique developmental needs of young people. We then close by sketching several policy and research recommendations.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


1 Several sources provide estimates of the numbers of young people—defined here as individuals ages 24 and under—released from correctional facilities each year, including state and federal jails and prisons and juvenile residential facilities, and excluding youth held in pre-adjudication or pre -disposition detention. Howard Snyder's (2004) paper discusses how to estimate the number of youth released from juvenile residential facilities each year (see also Butts and Adams 2001), as well as juveniles under age 18 released from adult prisons. Snyder estimates that 100,000 juvenile offenders are released annually from juvenile or adult custodial facilities. Travis and Visher (forthcoming) provide a similar discussion about estimating numbers of young adults, ages 18-24, released from state and federal jails and prisons. They estimate that annually about 100,000 young adults experience reentry.


Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Crime/Justice


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