Brian Ferguson, director for the District of Columbia Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs, has a simple answer to anyone who wonders why ordinary Americans should care about programs aimed at helping the formerly incarcerated adjust to life after prison.
“For anyone who does not see the value in reentry programs, ask yourself, what kind of neighbors do we want returning citizens to be when they return home?” he says.
Ferguson’s comment came in the official announcement of an ambitious plan released Wednesday by the Washington DC-based Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, a non-profit policy organization.
Reentry Ready believes that transforming the justice system from a primarily punishment-based approach into one where the system ensures “incarcerated individuals return to society prepared to be productive” is what’s going to heal the communities the most.
It envisions what it calls a “warm handoff” from jail or prison to community-based resources so returning individuals have the support they need to complete their reentry plan.
Under the plan, before individuals are released, corrections officials are tasked with developing personalized future reintegration plans, “based on a person’s specific needs and challenges.”
Each plan will set in motion unique support for the individual’s health and employment needs, as well as housing opportunities and community connections that can serve them well after release.
Reentry Ready says that by leading with compassion, a solid foundation can be laid out from the start to ensure individuals feel confident to reenter society.
Supporters argue that successful reentry also makes it imperative to remove obstacles such as “excessive fines and fees, challenging conditions of release, and harsh penalties for minor violations” because it makes reintegration more difficult and potentially isolating.
The stakeholders focused on three key strategies:
- holding criminal justice and related systems accountable for recidivism;
- sharing effective strategies for re-entry systems; and
- removing barriers that hinder continuing success for reintegrating individuals.
Need for Stable Environments
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people return home from jail or prison. But, many of these individuals don’t return to stable or healthy environments, leading them to commit crimes again.
A Bureau of Justice Statistics study found that “68 percent of state prisoners released in 2005 were rearrested within 3 years.”
The Reentry Report states that current statistics show three-year recidivism rates have dropped to 40 percent. However, it adds, 40 percent is still too high.
Aspects of recidivism statistics can be explained because of the multitude of challenges that reentering individuals face when they’re released, such as “potential rejection by friends and family; employers and landlords concerned about their criminal history; and difficulty accessing basic elements of life on the outside…”
All of those stress points can result in someone committing a crime again.
In order to prevent these stressors from developing, the Reentry Ready Project stakeholders maintain that, “improved collaboration among supporting actors and systems will enable individuals to achieve a more successful reentry and to transform their lives, thereby reducing the rate of recidivism.”
Cited in Reentry Ready’s full report, the National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC) highlighted seven states (Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Wisconsin) that have achieved reductions in recidivism rates by an average of 12.5 percent over three years because of implementing reentry support-focused programs.
These tactics can be useful for juveniles as well.
In an article published earlier this year, The Crime Report outlined a Philadelphia community’s story where many students were being arrested for relatively minor offenses. To combat this, Kevin Bethel, a former Philadelphia Deputy Police Commissioner, began “sending accused students to various social service providers rather than processing them in the juvenile justice system.”
Philadelphia found that by implementing the social service diversion tactic, arrests per year went from around 1,600 in 2014, to 456 in 2018.
“The solutions/recommendations we generated are innovative and have the potential to be widely adopted by outside groups and organizations.” said Leann Bertsch, a stakeholder and Director of North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Reentry Ready calls upon local and state governments to pave the way for these positive changes to be put into place so that recidivism rates can be reduced, there can be improved public safety, and so that money and resources can be freed up to meet other community needs.
As Brian Ferguson of the DC Mayor’s Office put it, focusing on recidivism follows the American values of providing second chances in life. .
“There is no better fix to the ills we see in society than opportunity,” he said.
More information about the plan is available here.
A panel discussion on the plan will be held Wednesday, starting at 9am Eastern. Viewers can watch it on Livestream: http://www.convergencepolicy.org/reentry-ready-event-6-26-2019-livestream/ or Facebook,at: https://www.facebook.com/ConvergenceCtr/
Additional Reading: Diverting Youth From Justice System Can Lower Recidivism, Panel Told
Andrea Cipriano is a TCR news intern.