More than 2 million Americans were incarcerated in jails and prisons across the country at the end of 2016. Many of these individuals will be released and reenter their communities at some point, but may be unprepared for the transition from incarceration.
The needs of individuals reentering the community are profound and wide-ranging, creating a high need for services to assist their transition. Most have limited education, few marketable job skills, uncertain housing situations, substance abuse or mental health problems, and fragile social support networks. Further, the communities that absorb reentry populations tend to be impoverished with few resources to support the complex needs of the formerly incarcerated.
Research has shown that reentry support is most important in the first days, weeks, and months immediately following release, when the risk of recidivism is highest. Even modest reductions in recidivism will result in fewer crimes and victims. Community supervision strategies that help improve outcomes while holding individuals accountable for their behaviors directly advance public safety objectives. Focusing on recidivism reduction can lead to powerful results.
The First Step Act (FSA) of 2018, signed into law in December 2018, aims to reduce recidivism and reform the federal prison system so that those exiting the system do not return. Under the FSA, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) assisted in the evaluation of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' existing risk and needs assessment system and the development of a new risk and needs assessment. NIJ contracted with outside experts to develop the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs tool, a significant advancement in the implementation of the FSA.
Young people leaving juvenile justice residential placement also face numerous unique concerns as they return to their communities. According to data captured in OJJDP's Statistical Briefing Book, more than 43,000 juvenile offenders were held in residential placement facilities in 2017. For youth leaving detention, having a team of people to support them in reentry, including a mentor, is critical. Young people who have the help of a mentor are often more successful in reentry.
Collateral consequences, the sanctions and disqualifications that fall on individuals trying to re-enter society, are another burden that can haunt individuals long past the expiration of their sentences and make moving past their criminal records more difficult.
Not only do these sanctions impact the individuals upon whom they fall, but also their families and communities. For example, as a result of being unable to find employment due to a criminal record, individuals recently released from incarceration are then unable to contribute financially to their family households.
A holistic approach to offender reentry – one that emphasizes the challenges faced by offenders as they return, and the impact of their return on families, victims, and communities – is critical to addressing public safety.
Visit the following pages for additional resources from the Office of Justice Programs and other federal sources: