With 95 percent of people in America’s prisons and jails getting out eventually, a new study finds that public safety benefits by reuniting them with their families, helping them with housing, employment, and healthcare.
An Overview of Offender Reentry found that family ties provide the “greatest tangible and emotional support to offenders as they reenter the community. Former offenders who are married or have long-term relationships are less likely to recidivate or use drugs or alcohol compared to those in more casual relationships.”
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) produced the study and found many returning citizens have lingering or contagious diseases, depression or other mental illnesses. Nonetheless, budget shortages prevent creating enough programs for the physical and mental health needs of returning citizens. Additionally, most prisons and jails do not assess its services, thus making it difficult to evaluate “what works” for a successful return to the community.
The study pinpointed services and programs that reduce recidivism.
Housing and Employment
Mental health, drug arrest records, and legal restrictions have hampered returning citizens’ ability to find stable housing. Providing housing assistance had the greatest positive effect on returning people, the study found.
“The state typically spends $71,000 a year to house an inmate. It costs about $5,000 total to help put one [incarcerated] student through community college”, reports Fast Company.
Steady employment plays an important role in reducing recidivism and allows returning citizens to contribute to and develop social ties with their community.
The study found that providing inmates educational opportunities and work experiences while incarcerated reduced recidivism.
Inmates who received education while incarcerated reduced the risk of recidivating after release by 43 percent, a 2013 RAND study showed.
Substance Abuse Treatment
A substance abuse treatment program in Hawaii relied on random drug testing, which reduced recidivism. The same outcomes, however, when tried in other places, were not reproduced.
“In 1935 the Supreme Court declared that a prosecutors job is more than merely winning every case by racking up convictions; it also included seeing that justice is done.” “Pressing Pause on Marijuana Convictions” NYT Opinion July 30, 2018
The NIJ study found that alcohol abuse treatment while incarcerated reduced recidivism for drunk drivers.
Long-term residential treatment for substance abuse disorders reduced recidivism, the study found.
State verse County Control
California experimented with sentencing alternatives to reduce prison populations by giving county governments more responsibility after criminal convictions.
“In their observational study using administrative data, they found that offenders who were released from state to county control generally had slightly higher recidivism rates, but the findings varied greatly from county to county,” NIJ reports.
The NIJ study also examined displaced returning citizens in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and found “that offenders who did not return to their home county had lower rates of recidivism.”
Application of Technology
NIJ determined that the Global Positioning System (GPS) is an effective monitoring tool for individuals who are on parole.
The study examined high-risk gang and sex offenders, monitored by GPS. GPS effectively identified offenders who violated parole. The results showed monitoring high-risk offenders by GPS led to fewer parole violations.
For low-risk offenders, having offenders report to an office for supervision effectively reduced parole violations and recidivism — and remote, tele-supervision was just as effective.
Reentry services vary across the nation and are not consistent. Additionally, to identify reentry needs or potential for future criminal behavior, reliable assessment and screening tools are vital.
“The type, level and intensity of service will vary by an offender’s needs,” NIJ found. “It’s critical that a risk of reoffending be appropriately identified. Research shows that exposing low-risk offenders to programming for high-risk offenders can be harmful.”
Finally NIJ recommends, “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.”