Prisoners released from prison have a high recidivism rate. Comprehensive crime prevention programs to address this concern,therefore, must include effective measures to prevent recidivism and to stop the sequence of failed adaptation by repeat offenders. Offenders released from confinement face a variety of challenges that may hinder their ability to become law-abiding citizens. A key feature of successful crime prevention strategies is the attention to the community and social reintegration of ex-prisoners into the community and the development of interventions designed to reduce the levels of recidivism. The faster former inmates take positive steps towards reintegrating into the community, the less likely they are to reoffend and be returned to prison. To foster the integration of former inmates, various states in the United States have established prisoner integration programs that are meant to help former inmates with their integration into the community.
Most often, when offenders have served their terms and are discharged back into the community, they find themselves in conditions of crime, lack of social support and poverty, conditions that are further worsened by lack of employment opportunities and community assistance. In circumstances when the offenderswere fortunate to receive employment training while incarcerated, they lack understanding and know-how to apply their skills to finding and keepinga job(Garrett & Carlson, 2009). In its infancy, Parole was designed to address these challenges of offender reentry. However, it has evolved into being community surveillance and policing tool of DOC and achieves very little towards achieving its prescribed goal of successful reintegration of released ex-convicts and reduction of recidivism rates.
The origin of prelease programs can be traced to the 1960s, when the Corrections Task Force of the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended the use of community-based corrections for all but hard-core offenders. Reintegration was the philosophy upon which community-based corrections would be based. The task and challenge of the reintegration model, was to keep offenders in the community and to help them reintegrate into community life. This paper presents community-based reintegration programsthat are meant to help former inmates with their integration back into the community.
According to the U.S Department of Justice, offender community reintegration involves the initiations of programs that are vdirected and steered towards fostering effective reentry of offenders back into the community upon release from correctional facilities. The reintegration programs mostly encompass a comprehensive case management approach which is aimed at promoting and aiding the offender in gaining the life skills which are essential to succeeding in the community and becoming law abiding citizens. It is an integral component in Corrections because it is the vehicle for reducing high rates of recidivism and therefore increasing public safety which provides for the public welfare(National Institute of Justice, 2011). This is usually achieved when an ex-convict remains out of prison and is gainfully employed.
The best reentry models incorporate a two component program, Facility and Community-Based Programs which consists of three phases(Cole, Smith, & DeJong, 2012).The first phase involves the offender receiving programs while he is still in the confinement of the correctional facility. It includes programs such as anger management, cognitive restructuring, instructions in life skills and employment or vocational trainings. The second phase involves community-based programs which have been designed to assist the offender in his initial reentry into the society. It encompasses initiatives such as housing assistance, finding treatment referrals, employment and educational guidance. The third phase programs are long-term to permanently assist the offender reintegrate into their community.These assistances are intended to provide continuation of support with employment, employers as well as treatment providers for the needed follow-up.
Community-Based reentry programs aim to reduce offender recidivism and successfully reintegrate an offender into the community. Reentry efforts often begin in correctional facilities and transition into theoffender’s community upon his release. More often than not, reentry programs encompass case management and support with employment,housing, healthcare,education and substance abuse.These programs have ranged from helping former inmates obtain appropriate housing, employment, and healthcare. They have also involved helping former inmate obtain other necessities, such as driver’s licenses, bank accounts, and clothing appropriate to wear on employment interviews.
The primary goal of community reintegration programs is to maximize the retention of positive community links which an offender has and help him or her establish new links to smooth the transition from prison to eventual release into the community. Among the many programs developed to help offenders return to the community, four are especially important. These are: Work and Education Release, Furloughs, Halfway Houses, and Restitution centers. Although similar in many ways, each offers a specific approach to helping formerly incarcerated individuals reenter the community.
Isolation from loved ones is one of the pains of imprisonment. Although correctional programs in many countries include conjugal visits, only a few U.S corrections systems have used them. The furloughs program is the temporary release of an inmate from a correctional institution for a brief period, usually one to three days, for a visit home. Such programs are aimed at maintaining family ties and prepare the inmates for release on parole, and as a meaningful approach to inmate reintegration (Cole, Smith, & DeJong, 2012).
Furloughs offer an excellent means of testing an inmate’s ability to cope with the larger society. Through home visits, the inmate can renew family ties and relieve the tensions of confinement. Most prison administrations opine that furloughs are good for prisoner’s morale. The general public, however, does not always support the concept. Public outrage is inevitable if an offender on furlough commits another crime or fails to return. Correctional authorities are often nervous about using furloughs because of the fear of being blamed for such incidence.
Halfway houses are community-based institutions for people who are halfway into prison, that is, on probation, or halfway out of prison, that is, on or nearing parole. It is a transitional facility for soon-to-be-released inmates that connects the inmates to community services, resources, and support(Garrett & Carlson, 2009). Halfway houses serving those nearing parole or actually discharged from prison are sometimes called “prelease centers.” They typically provide offenders with a place to live, sleep and eat. Usually, felons work in the community but reside in the halfway house during non-working hours. Halfway houses range from secure institutions in the community, with programs designed to assist inmates who are preparing to be paroled(Cole, Smith, & DeJong, 2012).A halfway house expects offenders to seek gainful employment, but also allows the client leisure passes to visit family, attend church, and go to the store or to treatment sessions. Counselors usually help offenders return to society, sometimes helping them find suitable jobs or providing transportation to jobs.
Work and Educational Release
Programs of Work and Educational Release were first established in Vermont in 1906, however, the Huber Act passed by the Wisconsin legislature in 1913, is cited as the model on which such programs are based. The Work and Educational Release program involves inmates being released from correctional facilities or institutions during the day to work or attend school. By 1972, most states and the federal government had instituted this program, yet in 2002 only one-third of prisons operated them for fewer than 3 percent of United States inmates.
Although most Work and Educational Release programs are justifiable in terms of rehabilitation, many correctional administrators and legislators prefer them because theyare cost effective. In some states, a portion of the inmate’s earnings from work outside may be deducted for room and board. One problem with these programs is that they allegedly take jobs from free citizens, a complaint often given by organized labor (Cole, Smith, & DeJong, 2012).
Restitution centers are a new variation of the half house. They are a type of residential community correctional facility specially targeted for work capable offenders who owe victims restitution or community service. The main difference between a restitution center and halfway house is that in a work release facility, the main emphasis is on gainful employment and payment of rent, child support, restitution, and other court-ordered fees(Alarid & del Carmen, 2010). Like the halfway house, restitution centers offer an alternative to prison, either for those who are halfway into or halfway out of prison. The client stays at the facility until it is time to go to work.Restitution programs have various advantages relative to traditional incarceration programs. First, it provides an offender with therapeutic value from working in a job environment which is community-based as well as association and one-on-one interactions with persons who are not criminals. Community friendships and contacts are maintained in the work setting. The offender’s ability to support himself and his dependents and to pay taxes results in an improved self-image that may have long-term psychological benefits.
This involves prison recreation activities that involve the community and the soon to be released convicts. They provide the prison administrations the opportunity to achieve an important goal of community corrections; preparing the public and the inmate for the inmate’s successfulreintegration into the community. Community member may help teach inmates various skills such as chess, ceramics or sewing, or they may interact with inmates in athletic competitions, art shows, or music festivals. These create opportunities for positive interaction between the offender and the community. This interaction may result in an emphatic awareness that the similarities between inmate and community members outnumber the differences. Thus, the activities help facilitate the reintegration of the offender into the community. Failure to achieve this reintegration guarantees a continuing recidivism rate.
Community-Based Programs in Virginia and The Kind of Services they provide
TheCommonwealth of Virginia has set up a program that is meant to help ex-convict with integration back into the community. The program is referred to as the Virginia Community Reentry Initiative. It is a community-based reentry approach that integrates human services and public safety. The program has three main goals. The first goal is to promote public safety primarily through reduced recidivism, the second goals is to maximize and expand opportunities for ex-convicts reintegrating into the community, while the third goal is to support the offender’s family and the offender’s community reintegration into the community. The program is developed around four primary principles: pre-release planning; interagency/governmental level coordination; integrated service delivery; and positive links to community with system of family and community support.The Virginia Community Reentry Initiativeintegrates Workforce Investment Boards, Law Enforcement Agencies, Community Service Boards, Non-Profits and Faith-Based Groups, Local Human Services, Business Community along with Probation Officers and other relevant agencies to co-ordinate preand post-release services with the previously incarcerated persons and the correctional center.
The program involves individual and family-to-family mentoring during the pre-release phase and for 9 months following return to the community. The core reentry activities include: linkage to employment/workforce development services; assistance with locating housing resources; help with connecting to transportation; and connection to health/mental health/ substance abuse services; as well as family strengthening/reintegration services. According to the administrator in-charge of the initiative, the program has reduced recidivism rates in the commonwealth by more than 50 percent since its inception.
Failure of an inmate to comfortably reintegrate into the community has been blamed to be the key reason as to why most released offender’s recidivate within 3 years of release. This has been attributed to the myriad of challenges that they face upon release that hinder their ability to become law-abiding citizens such as finding and maintaining a job, affording decent housing, and access to healthcare.It is therefore imperative that programs that facilitate and smooth an ex-convict’s reentry into the community are put in place by the authorities. Community-based programs such as Restitution centers, Work and Educational Release, Halfway Houses, and Furloughs are some of the initiatives which can be undertaken to assist the ex-convicts reintegrate into the community. Such programs not only have the benefit of assisting the ex-convict lead a normal and independent life upon release but also help keep the community safe and reduce the cost of the state in maintaining a correction facility.
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National Institute of Justice, O. (2011, June 17). Corrections and Reentry. Retrieved February 14, 2015, from National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs: https://www.crimesolutions.gov/TopicDetails.aspx?ID=36
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