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Each year, U.S. jails process an estimated 12 million admissions and releases. Substance addiction, job and housing instability, mental illness, and a host of health problems are part of the day-to-day realities for a significant share of this population. Given that more than 80 percent of inmates are incarcerated for less than one month, jails have little time or capacity to address these deep-rooted and often overlapping issues. Life After Lockup synthesizes key findings from the Jail Reentry Roundtable and examines opportunities on the jail-to-community continuum where reentry-focused interventions can make a difference.
The challenges associated with reentry from jail are daunting—large in scale and complex in task. Each year, U.S. jails process an estimated 12 million admissions and releases. That translates into 34,000 people released from jails each day and 230,000 released each week. In three weeks, jails have contact with as many people as prisons do in an entire year, presenting numerous opportunities for intervention.
The lives of many who cycle in and out of jail are unstable at best. Substance addiction, job and housing instability, mental illness, and a host of health problems are part of the day-today realities for a significant share of this population. Given that more than 80 percent of inmates are incarcerated for less than 1 month—many for only a few hours or days—jails have little time or capacity to address these deep-rooted and often overlapping issues. Moreover, no single organization or political leader in the community is responsible—or held accountable—for improving reentry outcomes.
A decade ago, jail administrators could plead ignorance or might respond “not my job” if asked how they assist inmates’ transition from confinement to community. Care, custody, and control were their operational directives and providing timely and accurate intakes, transports, and discharges of inmates their chief priorities. In the intervening years, with increasing awareness about the effects of reentry on public safety and community wellbeing, many of the field’s leading practitioners have begun to consider jail reentry programs and strategies as essential to the mission of jails. And they recognize they cannot do it alone; many jails are collaborating with community-based organizations that have the expertise, commitment, and capacity to work effectively with this population.
Collaboration across disciplines and jurisdictional boundaries is at the core of jail reentry, and in recent years, the field has seen an explosion of creative and productive partnerships between jails and law enforcement, probation, faith-based organizations, mental health clinics, victim advocate groups, the business community, and a variety of other social service and community providers. In many cases, such as the treatment of mental illness, individuals in jails are past or current clients of community-based organizations, and reentry strategies can maintain continuity of care. Reentry information sharing among law enforcement and public safety agencies can lend support to programmatic interventions and also serve to reduce victimization.
At the individual level, short lengths of stay and locally sited facilities translate into relatively little time away from—and even continued contact with—family, friends, treatment providers, employers, the faith community, and other positive social supports. If jail reentry efforts can help strengthen the ties between incarcerated individuals and these important social networks, the efforts could yield substantial gains in terms of safer communities, improved public health, and a reduced burden on taxpayer dollars.
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