By Thomas Gardner
Journalism Guild Writer
The effectiveness of jail reentry programs at addressing rehabilitation and recidivism are questionable, according to a 2008 academic paper written by a team of experts.
The team, composed of three criminologists and a statistician, based their finding on their own analyses along with studies and related academic reports by a variety of other sources, the paper documents.
“Unfortunately, the results produce more questions than answers about program impact,” the authors write.
The paper is titled “Exploring Inmate Reentry in a Local Jail Setting: Implications for Outreach, Service Use, and Recidivism.” Written as an article, it stresses distinction between state prison systems and jail settings.
“Several unique features of the jail setting have served as formidable barriers to the implementation of reentry programs,” say the authors.
According to their introductory summary, the authors conclude that reentry program participants at the local jail level perform no better than those who do not participate.
Since 1985, the United States has experienced an approximate 200 percent increase in the number of incarcerated persons – up from 744,208 to nearly 3 million, the study documents.
According to the study, statistics show that within three years of release, more than 50 percent of those formerly incarcerated will be back in lockup. As a result, “The issue of prisoner reentry has taken center stage in the correctional research and policy discussions.”
Representing Arizona State University, the RAND Corporation and John Jay College of Criminal Justice respectively, Michael D. White, Jessica Saunders, Christopher Fisher and Jeff Mellow constructed their article based upon examination of a New York City jail-based reentry program, the paper explains.
Statistical data provided in the paper indicates that on any given day there are far fewer inmates incarcerated at the local jail level as compared to the state prisons – 50 percent at most.
However, other data also provided in the paper shows that of those released annually from the local jails, as compared to those released annually from the state prisons, local jails release inmates back into the community at a rate at least 20 times greater than prisons.
In light of this, considering the vast numbers of inmates regularly released from local jail settings, the connection between reintegration and improvements in public safety, public health and budgetary (fiscal) savings is increasingly apparent, the authors note.
“Developing and implementing programs to transition jail inmates to the community is complicated by the unique features of the jail setting, most notably inmates’ short length of stay in jail, the mixing of pretrial and sentenced populations, and the typically low rates of post-release supervision. State prison inmates, for example, have an average length of stay of 25 months compared to jail inmates who are incarcerated on average between 10 and 20 days,” the authors write.
Further describing the challenges faced in making analysis, the authors say, “Many participants failed to take advantage of the full complement of services.”
And, the vexing inability to characterize the type and nature (“quality”) of services received by each participant is problematic, the authors explain.
Despite the data and survey limitations, the authors have been able to arrive at a conclusion. Accordingly, the study team says that: (1) “When examined as whole, released inmates who participated in reentry programs fared no better than comparable released inmates who did not participate. Individuals returned at approximately the same rate, at approximately the same time.” And, (2) “Individuals who received 90 days of post-releaseservices fared far better than both those who received less than 90 days of post-release services and those who did not participate in programs at all. This suggests that program dosage is important, but the finding is tempered by methodological concerns.”
The academic research team emphasizes that their study is one of the first empirical examinations of reentry at the local jail setting.
By Thomas Gardner