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Can Reentry Programs Be Both Effective and Cost Beneficial?

Speech to the Princeton University Policy Research Institute

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Document date: March 05, 2010
Released online: March 24, 2010

Abstract

The correctional system in the United States is at a critical crossroads. On one path, correctional leaders and their legislative counterparts have increasingly begun to embrace the concept of preparing prisoners for successful reintegration. On the other path is this bumpy road to economic recovery. The tension between these two paths is great. Considering this tension, can reentry programs be both effective and cost beneficial? In this speech delivered to the Princeton University Policy Research Institute for the Region, JPC Center Director Nancy G. La Vigne examines that question.


The text below is an excerpt from the complete document. Read the full report in PDF format.

Introduction

Today, the correctional system in the United States is at a critical crossroads. On one path, correctional leaders and their legislative counterparts have increasingly begun to embrace the concept of preparing prisoners for successful reintegration. They now publicly acknowledge that doing so can reduce the number of people that return to prison, while also lowering victimization in the community. Federal initiatives like the Second Chance Act are a testament to this new philosophy. On the other path is this bumpy road to economic recovery. If that recovery is happening, it is doing so at a slow pace, with state and county budgets shrinking rather than growing in the near term. The tension between these two paths is great: states, cities, and counties are seriously strapped for resources. These pressures are generating cost-cutting measures across the board—from the early release of prisoners to staff reductions. Unfortunately, those measures also include reducing or even eliminating reentry programs and treatment behind bars. The phrase "penny wise and pound foolish" comes to mind, in that these are the programs that will ultimately stem the flow of people recycling into the correctional system. A better way is to communicate more extensively and persuasively that reentry programs work and that they can be cost beneficial. But do reentry programs work? The answer is a definitive "it depends." Some programs work for some populations in some situations. Programs vary in terms of content and quality, and their impact on recidivism varies accordingly. That is why the Urban Institute has partnered with the Council of State Governments on this topic in conjunction with the National Reentry Resource Center (funded by the Second Chance Act). Our charge is to develop an online, searchable "What Works in Reentry" compendium, employing criteria vetted by the academic community but tailored for use by practitioners and policymakers.

While our findings on program effectiveness may be mixed, our research at the Urban Institute suggests that, programs aside, exposure to specific reentry practices is associated with better outcomes for exiting prisoners. Our landmark study, Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry, interviewed soon-to-be released prisoners in four states, following them in the community for up to a year. That research gleaned the following insights:

  • Education, specifically obtaining one's GED behind bars, is associated with higher rates of employment after release.
  • Employment matters in preventing recidivism, but what makes the biggest difference is the wages one earns; released prisoners who earn $10?12 an hour are twice as likely to remain crime free than their employed counterparts earning minimum wage.
  • Drug treatment behind bars is associated with lower rates of relapse in the community.
  • Family support can make a tremendous difference in reentry outcomes. Those with strong financial and emotional support from family members are less likely to relapse and return to prison. (Nearly all participants interviewed said they had at least one supportive family member in their lives).

(End of excerpt. The full report is available in PDF format.)



Topics/Tags: | Crime/Justice


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