States Promote Public Safety through Effective Prisoner Re-entry: The Second Chance Act and the National Reentry Resource Center

The number of people being released from prisons and jails is growing steadily in the United States. In 2000, about 600,000 people were released from prison; that number grew to more than 680,000 people in 2008.1 Between 1990 and 2004, the jail population increased from approximately 400,000 people to slightly more than 700,000.2 Unfortunately, there has not been a corresponding increase in the rate of successful reintegration into the community for people released from prison. A study of 15 states found more than two-thirds of state prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested and more than half returned to prison within three years of their release.3

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About the Author
Le’Ann Duran is the Reentry Project director at The Council of State Governments Justice Center. Before joining CSG, Le’Ann was the administrator of the Office of Offender Reentry for the Michigan Department of Corrections, where she managed Michigan’s Prisoner Reentry Initiative. She also has served as a senior research associate with Public Policy Associates in Lansing, Mich., where she worked as a consultant to the Michigan Department of Corrections. Le’Ann received her bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech University, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude, and her master’s from Colorado State University.


 

Current State of the Re-entry Field

In the past decade, innumerable government officials and community leaders have sought to reduce the number of crimes committed by the record number of people released from prisons, jails and juvenile facilities. What was once the goal of a relatively small number of corrections managers, jail administrators and scattered service providers has recently become a national priority. It resulted in the exponential growth of people, organizations and governmental agencies interested in helping people who have been incarcerated become law-abiding and contributing members of families and communities. The Second Chance Act has played a significant role in this growth in re-entry programs and priorities nationwide.

Government officials and community leaders recognize that people released into the community have significant and diverse needs. Halting the cycle of criminal behavior in youth, which is often the antecedent to adult criminal behavior, for example, requires strategies and programs distinct from those designed for adults. At the same time, the level of sophistication in the re-entry field varies considerably. Some organizations understand effective practices and have retooled staff development and training efforts, modified policies and invested in community-based interventions; however, most are still in the early stages of understanding and implementing effective re-entry strategies. Some specialize in narrow focus areas, such as literacy or services for HIV, while others try to provide a comprehensive range of services. Some have received local, state and/or federal funding; others operate solely on a shoestring budget of contributions and volunteer resources.

Yet these policymakers and practitioners share a common struggle: They must meet the needs of people returning from prisons, jails and juvenile detention facilities often without immediate access to data-driven strategies, evidence-based practices, models for oversight and accountability, and other methods for efficiently and effectively carrying out their efforts.

Introduction to the National Reentry Resource Center

The National Reentry Resource Center provides education, training and technical assistance to states, tribes, territories, local governments, service providers, nonprofit organizations and corrections institutions working on prisoner re-entry. The Resource Center is operated by The Council of State Governments’ Justice Center, with support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation and the Open Society Institute.

Background

Signed into law on April 9, 2008, the Second Chance Act (Public Law 110-199) was designed to improve outcomes for people returning to communities from prisons and jails. This first-of-its-kind legislation authorizes federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations to provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victims support and other services that can help reduce recidivism.

By establishing a national re-entry resource center, Congress and the Bureau of Justice Assistance have ensured the needs of anyone working in the area of re-entry are met. They are effectively buttressing the government agencies and community-based organizations receiving federal funds to ensure the most effective use of those investments.  They are also ensuring the rest of the re-entry field is progressing and maturing.

Before the enactment of the Second Chance Act and the subsequent launch of the National Reentry Resource Center in October 2009, government officials and community leaders, under pressure to launch and administer a re-entry program, sought help wherever they could find it. Surfing the Web, they downloaded stacks of tools and guides, but were unsure which ones were credible or most relevant.4 Research was similarly mystifying. Nothing succinctly reviewed what the evidence said are the essential elements of any re-entry initiative, and it was similarly unclear who was setting a research agenda to address gaps in the knowledge base. The field was missing one place to go where reliable information was compiled, developed and easily accessible, as well as a single place to connect with an expert to navigate this sea of information and be linked to a peer who could share valuable experiences.

National Reentry Resource Center Goals

The Resource Center was created as a one-stop resource for the field. Since opening its doors in October 2009, the Resource Center has helped many individuals, agencies and organizations that have typically struggled to implement effective practices with scarce funding in order to better address community safety.

Re-entry efforts must start with a strong program design that clearly describes who will be targeted for intervention and outlines the services and supervision appropriate for the target population. In order to create an effective program design, those involved in re-entry must first knit together a joint venture among state, county and city justice and human services agencies that often have distinct missions—with varying levels of commitment to serving people involved in the justice system. Second, they must agree on how the re-entry effort will target resources precisely and scientifically by collecting and analyzing data to identify a subset of people released from prison or jail most likely to reoffend. Third, they must determine the specific service packages and supervision strategies that are tailored to this target population and most likely to change those behaviors that can lead to reincarceration. Fourth, to sustain the initiative, reentry program administrators must demonstrate how many people they served, what those program participants received and what difference it made.

Guided by these challenges, the National Reentry Resource Center has brought together the most experienced re-entry practitioners and researchers to inform the tools and assistance provided by the center. Available assistance includes collected resource materials—including a “what works” library, distance learning tools, individualized assistance and peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

For more information about National Reentry Resource Center, please visit: www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org

 

Notes
1 William J. Sabol, Heather C. West, and Matthew Cooper, Prisoners in 2008, NCJ 221944 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2009).
2 Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2004, NCJ 208801, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005).
3 Patrick A. Langan and David J. Levin, Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994, NCJ 193427, (Washington, D.C.:U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002).
4 Even the Report of the Reentry Policy Council—a seminal publication with hundreds recommendations from more than 75 national experts—can be overwhelming, especially
to someone just starting a program. The full Report of the Reentry Policy Council can be found at http://reentrypolicy.org/Report/About.
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