Stephen Goldsmith is the Daniel Paul Professor of
Government and director of the Innovations in American Government
Program at Harvards Kennedy School of Government.
Goldsmith served two terms as mayor of Indianapolis and
before that as Marion County (Ind.) district attorney.
William B. Eimicke is deputy commissioner of the
New York City Fire Department and founding director of the
Picker Center for Executive Education at Columbia Universitys
School of International and Public Affairs. Timothy Burke,
Christopher L. Busch, and Dong Guo aided in the research
and writing of this bulletin.
* * *
On July 23, 2007, two felons recently released from prison
robbed and torched a Connecticut doctors house, holding
hostage, sexually assaulting, and eventually killing his
wife and two daughters. The distraught
husband and father survived. Two weeks later, in Newark,
New Jersey, a group of young thugs, led by a released felon
with another case pending against him, took the lives of
three college-bound youths in what has been described as
an execution-style murder. A fourth
youth survived despite suffering a gunshot wound to her
These crimes, though more brutal than the norm, nonetheless
dramatize an enormous problem facing state and local officials
throughout the country: what to do about the fact that almost
two million offenders will be released from prison in the
next three years. Nearly two-thirds of those released will
be rearrested within three years, many of them the beneficiaries
of early release policies, and many of the arrests will
occur within just six months of their release.
The two Connecticut marauders, repeat offenders, were on
parole when they attacked, and had been through a drug-treatment
center as well as a halfway house to which they had been
assigned, after screening, by the Connecticut Department
of Correction. In the case of these two, it is difficult
to argue that anything but their continued incarceration
could have saved the lives of the Hawke-Petit family. But
it is equally difficult to judge alternatives to punishment
as failures when ex-offenders are lacking employment, training,
mentors, and networks of supporters who can facilitate their
reentry into civil society.
Substantial research on offender characteristics might
help predict the level of threat an individual poses or
his chances of recidivating, including single marital status,
unemployment, and a history of drug abuse. Yet judges and
parole boards mostly avoid weighing these characteristics
when they are sentencing a particular defendant. One of
the authors, a former prosecutor, recalls the complaints
he heard from legal and ethics scholars when he used empirical
research to help him decide which persons to charge as career
At the same time, the impact of individual characteristics
can be strongly affected by external factors. As Jeremy
Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice
(part of CUNY) and the author of a pioneering study of prisoner
reentry, has written: Risk is not a static attribute
of a particular offender; rather, an offenders environment,
including prospective guardians and opportunities for re-offending,
influences his propensity to make unwise choices.
According to Travis, environmental or community factors
that affect reintegration include:
- shortage of public housing
- child-support payments
- gang activity (in and out of prison)
- social characteristics of neighborhoods
- restrictions on where ex-offenders can work and limited
- no savings and no immediate entitlement to unemployment
In short, predicting future behavior, difficult in its
own right, should not be attempted in a vacuum. Evidence
shows that involving neighbors, peers, and employers in
the reintegration of ex-offenders, assisted by organizations
that are both faith-based and secular, for-profit and not-for-profit,
can make a large difference. Our site visits and reviews
of the literature certainly support this conclusion. We
came across many programs and individuals that helped ex-offenders
become productive citizens.
Unfortunately, most state penal and judicial officials
are not working with or sponsoring effective reentry programs.
Instead, they approach this looming public safety disaster
without a clear mission, quantitative measures of success,
or evidence-based decision making. In addition, officials
generally do not direct public expenditures to where they
might make the greatest difference. For example, offenders
likely to succeed on release do not need intensive programs,
yet they are enrolled in them; and offenders judged likely
to commit a serious crime upon releaseno matter the
interventionshould not be released, yet they are.
These things happen in part because there is no criminal-justice
system as such, but only assortments of officials in every
state who make decisions like the above on the basis of
their own tolerance for risk rather than a general understanding
of the requirements for community safety. Yet the reality
is that each decisionthe arrest, charge, length of
sentence, prison policies, and release decisionaffects
all the others.
The Problem: No Room at the Inn
To crack down on violence and drug-related crimes, the
United States undertook through the 1980s and 1990s an aggressive
program to arrest and incarcerate lawbreakers. The effort
succeeded in reducing crime and making cities safer. For
example, using aggressive arrest tactics and performance-based
management, Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg
managed to reduce serious crime in New York City by 74 percent
between 1993 and 2007.
Stepped-up policing combined with sentencing reform leads
to longer and often determinate sentences. When one of the
authors served as a district attorney, he supported efforts
to make sentences determinate so that victims, the authorities,
and the public could know how much time an offender would
serve. Yet these determinate schemes also reduced the amount
and duration of supervision and control that authorities
could exercise upon release.
As a result of more effective policing and laws mandating
tougher sentencing measures, the U.S. prison population
grew from under 750,000 in 1985 to more than 2.2 million
today. Because of high rates of conviction and determinate
sentencing, sometime ago, prison populations swelled. According
to the Pew Center for the States, more than one in 100 American
adults is behind bars. Now these
numbers are catching up with us: almost one-third of all
the people behind bars were released in 2007. The vast majority
of offenders eventually reenter society; two-thirds of them
will offend again. They return to their old communities,
become reacquainted with their old friends, and become involved
in the illicit activities that got them into trouble in
the first place.
And so it should come as no surprise that crime, after
a decade of decline, is on the rise again. According to
the FBI, figures assembled by the Police Executive Research
Forum showed that violent crime increased by 1.9 percent
in 2006. A number of factors contribute
to the problem. Many prisons have cut back education, job-training,
and rehabilitation programs. And in many parts of the country,
ex-offenders are sent out the prison door with little more
than a bus ticket home.
Felons do not engender public sympathy or demands that
limited resources be directed their way. Yet the enormous
community harm caused by their appallingly high recidivism
rates indicates that it is in everyones best interest
to bring those rates down. Liberals may view reentry assistance
to the downtrodden and disenfranchised as the obligation
of a just society, while conservatives may view some form
of intervention as simply an act of self-defense. Whatever
the motivation for doing so, offenders reentry into
society must be eased.
What Works? Effective Interventions
With the stakes so high and resources so limited, public
officials in effect place a large bet when they choose one
intervention or another. Empirical research does not provide
a list of silver bullets that would guarantee
either a decrease in recidivism or at least an increase
in the amount of time before an offender re-offends. Research
does, however, provide clues to what works and what does
not. For example, longer sentences do not appear to reduce
recidivism. Those serving over five years in federal prison
are much more likely to return to federal prison than those
incarcerated for a shorter time.
Changing sentencing policies to provide for longer post-release
supervision, if that supervision is not regular and observant,
does not, however, provide a solution.
Unfortunately, the number of parolees/probationers per parole/probation
officer continues to rise significantly. In the face of
rising numbers of parolees and probationers, resources for
post-release supervision as well as for programs aimed at
successful reintegration have stagnated or even dropped.
The picture is not entirely bleak. Offenders involved with
drugs who are treated both in prison and after release are
less likely to be arrested than those who received no treatment.
Their recidivism rates have also been found to be lower
than those treated only in prison.
Programs that provide only prerelease or only post-release
treatment do not necessarily reduce recidivism. South Carolinas
Correctional Recovery Academy treatment program in correction
facilities for young adult offenders failed to reduce recidivism
or relapse. And graduates of the
much-studied therapeutic community treatment programs for
parolees and probationers are only slightly less likely
to be arrested within two years of leaving the program than
the general population of offenders.
Another well-intentionedif superficialintervention,
the Indianapolis Violence Reduction Partnership, also produced
no discernibly positive results. Inmates attended one neighborhood-based
group meeting convened by criminal-justice officials at
which they received assistance obtaining housing and overcoming
negative peer influence. Approximately 40 percent of both
the treatment and the control group were rearrested within
24 months, and the treatment group did not take significantly
longer to re-offend. With only
one post-release meeting, the program probably lacked the
With these mixed results in mind, we set out to identify
the components of successful reentry programs. All effective
programs depend on leadership and commitment, but we were
able to identify the following additional practices worthy
of serious consideration: enhanced supervision; adding employment
to support and supervision; interventions that start before
release; and connections to significant community support
and resources, such as what might be provided by faith-based
Generally, parole officers are less concerned with helping
released offenders adjust to civilian life than with making
sure that they check in with the required regularity. Indeed,
officers huge caseloads preclude any other possibility.
In the view of policymakers and other high-level officials,
it is cheaper to pretend that routine monitoring can be
meaningful than to offer offenders real support. Even so,
there is evidence that close and careful supervision constitutes
its own kind of support.
Proactive Community Supervision. The Maryland
Division of Parole and Probation developed a program called
Proactive Community Supervision (PCS), which promised intensive
parole supervision and other forms of support.
In the PCS model, local probation and parole officers perform
an assessment; develop an individualized supervision plan;
hold participants accountable for progress toward their
behavioral goals, using both incentives and sanctions in
the process; and maintain an environment in which supervisees
can learn from missteps and minor relapses.
In addition, the parole division lowered caseloads of high-risk/high-need
parolees and probationers from 100 to 55 per officer in
four localities. PCS also enlists community networks of
family and friends, mentors, and civic associations, as
well as nonprofit agencies to assist with preemployment
training. It also contacts employers willing to hire ex-offenders.
PCS encourages officers to meet with their low-risk supervisees
at the offices of local community or faith-based organizations,
a setting where they are more likely to relate their difficulties.
PCS recommends meetings with high-risk supervisees at the
local police station, where they are reminded of the working
relationship between parole/probation officers and law enforcement.
The PCS methodology also seeks to identify the type of
problem that looms largest for each ex-offender (drug addiction,
street violence, domestic violence, sexual violence, mental
illness, general dysfunctionality) and then develop a suitable
supervision plan. An important aspect of the program is
that the PCS agent and the participant enter into a contract
setting out what is expected of both parties. Results are
encouraging. A study released in February 2006 by a team
of researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University and
the University of Maryland showed that 32.1 percent of PCS
participants were rearrested, in contrast to 40.9 percent
of nonparticipants receiving traditional supervision, in
effectively the same time span.
Hampden County Public Health Model for Corrections.
With a rate of HIV infection about ten times higher
than the general populations, an incidence of mental
illness five times higher, and pervasive untreated chronic
illness, prisoners are one of the least healthy and most
vulnerable groups in society. The
Hampden County Correctional Center, in central Massachusetts,
developed its Public Health Model for Corrections precisely
to address the problem of limited access to health care.
The program has been copied in Washington, D.C., and in
Suffolk County, Massachusetts, and it is being considered
by Rhode Island, Vermont, and the city of Jacksonville,
Florida. The Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation recently invested over $7 million in propagating
The original program assigns an inmate to a doctor who
provides comprehensive medical care in prison and then remains
the inmates provider after release. One former inmate
with a continuing medical condition first diagnosed in prison
said, Easy access to health care helped ease [my]
transition from prison.... It is the best care Ive
gotten in my life. My doctor in there is my doctor out here.
He knows me and my family really well. I trust him.
This prisoner now works as a case manager in a local drug-treatment
center. According to the center, prisoners report feeling
more motivated to take control over their lives and their
health. In fact, the recidivism
rate at Hampden County Correctional Center in 2000 was only
9 percent, while rates at other correction facilities in
Massachusetts were 25 percent or higher.
The wisdom of ensuring ex-prisoners continued access
to health care finds confirmation in a study of detainees
with severe mental illness. Of those who received Medicaid-funded
services upon release, approximately 16 percent fewer were
returned to jail on average over the following 12 months
than mentally ill jail detainees not given help. Medicaid
benefits alone, however, were not sufficient to keep individuals
with severe mental illness out of jail.
Adding Employment to Support and Supervision
The programs that the authors visited, including Marylands
PCS, described above, demonstrate that support systems make
a huge difference in getting ex-offenders to straighten
out. Probably no support system makes as much difference
as a job.
One year after release, the unemployment rate for felons
returning to society may be as high 60 percent.
In New York, the unemployment rate for parole violators
is 89 percent. These figures indicate
not only that ex-offenders are likely to be unemployed but
that the unemployed are likely to recidivate. Conversely,
it appears that employment reduces recidivism. In California,
an independent evaluation of the Prisoner Reentry Employment
Program of Second Chance, a not-for-profit organization
in San Diego, found that only 30 percent of individuals
in the treatment group were reincarcerated, while 68 percent
of the control group went back to jail or prison.
The authors studied three programsthe Center for Employment
Opportunities in New York, Delancey Street Foundation in
San Francisco, and America Works of Detroitand found
further evidence that job placement or employment is a successful
Center for Employment Opportunities. Established
as an independent not-for-profit corporation in 1996, the
Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) focuses on comprehensive
employment training and services for people returning to
New York from incarceration. The CEO model is committed
to rapid job attachment. Today CEO offers preemployment
training, short-term work-crew experience, and long-term
job-development services, including support for the ex-offender
through the first year of permanent employment.
CEO has made more than 10,000 job placements. In an average
year, CEO places 66 percent of participants who meet with
a job developer in full-time jobs. According to preliminary
findings from an MDRC random assignment study of recently
released prisoners on parole, 9 percent of CEO participants
returned to prison for any reason at the one-year follow-up,
while the figure was 19 percent for the control group.
The CEO method begins with preemployment workshops, after
which a participant is connected to a job coach. CEOs
Neighborhood Work Project (NWP) then places participants
in a paid transitional job. NWP workers are assigned to
work crews performing basic property maintenance, repair,
and construction demolition as well as event preparation
for government agencies. Participants receive the New York
State minimum wage ($7.15 in 2007) and are paid daily, up
to four days per week. The availability of day and night
schedules and a reduced-day week give participants the flexibility
they need to meet their other obligations during the transition
The job coach helps build work skills and provides support
and encouragement during the job search, while also connecting
the participants to support services such as housing and
outpatient drug treatment. Two weeks after starting in a
transitional job, the participant meets with an employment
specialist, who continues to work with the participant until
he obtains a suitable, unsubsidized job. CEOs involvement
does not end at this point. It goes on to provide workplace
counseling and career counseling with the purpose of helping
participants hold on to the job they have or get a new one,
if need be.
All participants must carry a Passport to Successa
daily performance evaluation completed by their supervisor.
They are assessed on the basis of their cooperation with
the supervisor, effort at work, punctuality, cooperation
with coworkers, and personal presentation.
By impressing on participants the importance of a strong
work ethic and such related values as effective communication,
respectfulness, and the need to master the skills required
for the task before them, CEO enables employers to look
past participants criminal records. A transitional
work experience that is strictly monitored and frequently
evaluated in this fashion enables participants to develop
the marketable skills and work habits necessary to obtain
and retain unsubsidized work with a potential for growth.
CEO also offers support programs to help participants meet
the economic demands posed by an entry-level job. Its Responsible
Fatherhood Program helps participants get their child-support
payment orders reduced to a level that their modest paychecks
can support. CEO also provides workshops on parenting skills,
and it hosts events designed to foster the bond between
father and child. Fathers who feel such a connection are
more likely to seek and keep a legitimate job. In CEOs
Rapid Rewards Program, movie tickets, fare cards, and grocery
vouchers mark milestones of continuous employment.
CEOs primary funding for transitional work operations
comes from the New York State Division of Parole.
CEO earns the funds to pay its transitional workers and
cover its operating costs by providing maintenance services
to state and city agencies under a contract with the State
Division of Parole. Agencies receiving the services pay
the Division of Parole through their existing maintenance
and repair budgets.
Delancey Street Foundation. The campus headquarters
of San Franciscos Delancey Street Foundation serves
as a home and training center for 500 formerly incarcerated
individuals. The program began in 1971 and is still led
by its inspirational founder, Dr. Mimi Silbert. Founded
on the credo Each one, teach one, all work is
done by its resident participants, with the more experienced
teaching the less experienced. Except for a small personal
allowance, no salaries are paid to residents, but all basic
needs are provided, including dormitory housing, meals,
clothing, transportation, medical care, and entertainment.
The organization reports having more than 12,000
successful graduates and
estimates that more than 75 percent of its residents go
on to live successful lives. It
does, however, report a high dropout rate in the first three
months. The late Dr. Karl Menninger, after reviewing the
existing data and conducting his own ten-year study, stated
that Delancey Street is the best and most successful
rehabilitation program I have studied in the world.
The Delancey Street story has been covered by a wide range
of news programs and publications, from 60 Minutes to the
New York Times, but because the
organization does not accept government funds, it has not
been subject to rigorous independent evaluation and monitoring.
America Works of Detroit. Incorporated in
2004, America Works of Detroit was a local affiliate of
America Works, a full-service employment agency that serves
hard-to-employ job seekers nationwide from offices in New
York, Oakland, Baltimore, and Albany. The Detroit program
was established as one of 11 sites in the three-year Ready4Work
national demonstration project, created by the Philadelphia-based
research organization Public/Private Ventures, the U.S.
Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of Justice,
with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the
Ford Foundation. The Ready4Work program ended in 2006.
One recent evaluation found that 76 percent of America
Workss 313 Detroit participants were placed in jobs,
primarily in food service and construction. Of those placed,
57 percent had worked for at least 90 consecutive days.
After six months in the program, 2.5 percent of Ready4Work
program participants, including America Works of Detroit,
were returned to prison for a new offense, as against a
national average of 5.7 percent for nonparticipants.
America Works of Detroit worked with more than 140 employers,
including Ford Motor Company and McDonalds.
During the 1990s, America Works assisted one of the authors
in his Job or Jail program in Indianapolis. Under the program,
judges could refer willing fathers who failed to make their
required child-support payments to employment agencies such
as America Works instead of sentencing them to jail.
The Job or Jail experience convinced founder Peter Cove
and CEO Lee Bowes that they could use their rapid job-attachment
model to help employ ex-offenders.
Participants can more easily face other issues once they
experience the pride, independence, self-respect, and sense
of responsibility that come with a paying job. America Works
has developed an effective methodology for moving unskilled
and minimally experienced job seekers into existing, unsubsidized
jobs. It focuses on short-term work-readiness training and
basic skill-building, followed by rapid job attachment and
continuation of support services to promote job retention.
Referrals are made to all the needed wraparound serviceshousing,
transportation, day care, and substance-abuse treatmentand
assessment is ongoing.
* * *
Starting Programs Before Release
A February 2006 study by Public/Private Ventures shows
that the 11 major Ready4Work programs across the United
States, including America Works of Detroit, were extremely
effective. Recidivism rates for Ready4Work participants
were less than half the national average. The study provides
evidence that employment reduces recidivism, particularly
if job attachment can be achieved soon after an ex-offenders
release from incarceration. Furthermore,
inmates who participate in education programs while incarcerated
have showed lower rates of recidivism.
Programs that provide ex-offenders services in prison and
then continue after release, such as the two mentioned below,
have the most positive impact on prisoners chances
for success after release.
Resolve to Stop the Violence Program. This
program, known as RSVP, is administered by the San Francisco
Sheriffs Department within state prisons on behalf
of violent offenders. It focuses on the roots of violent
behavior and its impact. The program won a 2004 Harvard
Innovations in American Government Award. Aspects of the
program include victim restitution, offender accountability,
and reintegration of ex-offenders into their former communities.
Its approach is rehabilitative rather than punitive, and
one of its overriding goals is preventing further violence.
Studies have shown that the longer an inmate is involved
in RSVP, the less likely he is to use violence in the future.
Project RIO. Project RIO (Reintegration of
Offenders) is an employment program for ex-offenders operated
by the state of Texas. Participants receive occupational
and educational counseling as well as assistance in filling
out a practice job application. They also receive help in
obtaining documentation, including a drivers license,
Social Security card, and birth certificate, required by
employers. In 1990, five years after Project RIO started
as a pilot program in Dallas and Tarrant Counties, RIO was
saving the state approximately $15 million each year, researchers
from Texas A&M University estimate, by helping
to reduce the number of parolees who would otherwise have
been rearrested and sent back to prison.
Based on these positive early results, the program was expanded
throughout Texas. Today the program
operates out of more than 80 facilities and has more than
A 2000 study conducted for the Criminal Justice Policy
Council of Texas found that the two-year recidivism rate
of Project RIO participants was 15 percent for those who
found employment and 18 percent for participants who did
not find employment. Project RIO
staff believe that a critical factor in the reduced recidivism
rates is RIOs emphasis on rapid job attachment and
job retention thereafter. However, a Texas A&M study
found that high risk participants had a rearrest
rate of 48 percent, which is still somewhat less than the
rate of 57 percent for similar nonparticipants. Overall,
the program reduced recidivism rates by 15 percent, according
to the study.
One key to the success of Project RIO is its engagement
with inmates as soon as they enter prison. RIO staff conduct
information sessions with inmates, recruiting the eligible,
and bring prospective employers into prison to relate past
RIO success stories. Alabama and
Georgia have both attempted to replicate Project RIO. Alabama
credits its program with reducing the pressure on its jails
and annual savings of over $1 million.
According to Ronnie Lane, director of Parolee Training and
Employment for the state of Georgia, What attracted
us to Project RIO was precisely its ability to get agencies
with different missions to work together on a mutual concerngetting
inmates ready for life after prison.
Faith and Community Support
As a condition of parole, many ex-offenders are forbidden
to associate with other ex-offenders, yet their tendency
to return to neighborhoods with high concentrations of them
makes compliance difficult. Furthermore, these communities
often lack the resources, economic and otherwise, to reintegrate
those who are returning.
Injecting ex-offenders with religion and other forms of
support helps inoculate them against the adverse circumstances
of their lives after prison. In fact, inmates who report
high levels of participation in religious programs and a
strong belief in a supreme being are less likely to be rearrested.
Two programs that the authors studied combine mentoring,
often under religious auspices, with other services to provide
offenders with the inspiration and confidence they need
Operation New Hope. Director Kevin Gay opened Operation
New Hope (ONH) in 1999 as a community development corporation
employing ex-offenders to rehabilitate houses in a historic
but deteriorated neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida.
Urban and human redevelopment were Gays goals from
the outset. By 2003, the organization
had restored and sold 29 houses and created about 40 jobs.
Over time, Gay shifted the programs focus from housing
rehabilitation to the training, employment, and reintegration
of newly released ex-offenders. But he soon recognized that
many of them needed more than job training and a paycheck.
They abused drugs, had psychological problems, lacked permanent
housing, or had gaps in their education that made it harder
for them to do their jobs. Virtually all new workers lacked
positive role models and a modicum of encouragement. Fortunately,
Gay crossed paths with several local ministers who were
eager to help.
The Reverend Garland Scott and members of City Center Ministries
began serving as mentors to ONH workers. He restores
the houses. I restore the lives, Reverend Scott said
at the time. The Reverend David
Williams, head chaplain at the Duval County jail, reported
referring many inmates to ONH, none of whom returned to
ONH has certain criteria for eligibility: clients must
be between 18 and 34 years of age and must be nonviolent;
their offenses must not be of a sexual nature; and they
must have been released from prison within the previous
90 days. The initial success of ONH at vocational training,
as well as its extensive faith-based mentoring and support
network, caught the attention of Brent Orrell, director
of the U.S. Department of Labors Office of Faith-Based
and Community Initiatives from 2001 to 2005. On the basis
of Orrells assessment, President Bush chose ONH as
the model for what was to become the Ready4Work demonstration
mentioned above. During its tenure,
Gay reports, ONH served more than 500 ex-offenders, only
5 percent of whom committed a new crime.
In a January 2007 report, Public/Private Ventures found
that of the 551 participants enrolled at ONH during its
own three-year Ready4Work demonstration programone
of 11 around the country292 were placed in 423 jobs
(59 percent). An impressive 71 percent of those placed in
jobs were employed for at least 90 days. However, ONH, like
America Works, has the disadvantage of having government
contracts of only a single years duration as its primary
source of revenue. Despite its continued success and widespread
community support, ONH has been unable to secure a stable
and continuing source of funds.
America Works of Detroit. The Detroit site
of America Works had an optional mentoring program developed
in partnership with the Reverend Dr. Charles G. Adams and
his Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, also based in that
city. More than 100 members of the church served as mentors
for America Works participants and helped them solve the
many daily challenges accompanying reentry, from housing
and dress to avoiding the unproductive use of uncommitted
time. Some participants who were helped in these ways became
PARTNER. Community and family support can
be as uplifting as faith. A notable promoter of the two
is PARTNER (Parolees and Relatives toward Newly Enhanced
Relationships), a 2003 Harvard Innovations in American Government
Awardwinning collaboration between the New York State
Division of Parole and La Bodega de la Familia, a small
family-support center with deep roots in the Lower East
Side of New York. PARTNER brings together the parolee, family
members, the supervising officer, and a La Bodega family
case manager in what is called family partnering case management.
Studies of the 1,000 families that have participated show
that it has had great success in both promoting addiction
recovery and lowering recidivism rates.
Directing Resources to Reducing Risks
The effort to reduce the discretion of judges and prison
authorities has resulted in higher rates of imprisonment
and arguably less crime. Increasingly, however, prisons
are populated by older recipients of long sentences, who
require expensive medical care.
But recently, state legislatures have been unwilling to
continue expanding prison capacity because of the expense,
making it all the more important that existing spaces be
used as effectively as possible and combined with thoughtfully
designed and rigorously evaluated release programs.
The relative effectiveness of particular forms of intervention
cannot be judged in isolation. The receptiveness or resistance
of the population on which they are tried, the presence
or absence of ameliorating or aggravating factors in the
environment, not to mention an individuals unique
capacity for rehabilitation, will powerfully affect the
outcomes produced by any program, however well-tested. Officials
must be able to make informed, if not flawless, decisions
about which inmates are most likely to avoid re-offending
under some combination of early release or parole and enrollment
in some reentry program, since incarcerating offenders indefinitely
is neither a practical nor a humane alternative.
Of course, officials cannot be certain that a particular
program will work for a particular offender, but they can
find out which factors relating to the offender, his crime,
and the intervention program in question promote successful
reentry in general. Despite this, judges and state correctional
officials rarely consider empirical research or program
evaluations when they are deciding a convicted felons
sentence or the length and terms of his probation or parole.
Research helps identify offender characteristics that might
assist officials in predicting whether a felon will commit
another crime and how soon. For example, the younger the
prisoner when released, the higher the rate of recidivism;
one study found that 82 percent of released prisoners under
age 18 were rearrested within three years, while the three-year
rearrest rate for those 45 or older was 45 percent.
Multiple arrests preceding a prisoners current incarceration
raise the odds that he will continue to commit crimes after
release. Older inmates whose rate
of lawbreaking had leveled off before their latest imprisonment
are also less likely to re-offend, provided they participate
in a reentry program of some kind.
For ex-offenders of whatever description, however, a return
to prison is the most likely eventuality. They cannot find
a job; they do not know how to fit into regular society.
But they do know prison rules and the people inside. Everything
they need is provided therefood, housing, employment,
and a social role. As the Delancey Street Foundations
founder says, What is hard on criminals is to insist
that they be accountable, that they work hard, that they
When a released offender commits a crime, the public does
not know whom to hold responsiblethe judge for a weak
sentence, the warden for ineffective rehabilitation, the
parole officer for lack of supervision, or the legislature
for poor sentencing laws or funding decisions.
Whatever the case, we should begin by thinking about criminal-justice
reform the way we thought about welfare reform in the 1990s.
In the case of welfare recipients, work provides not only
income but direction and self-respect. In countless instances,
mothers are struggling largely because the father of their
children is behind bars. Upon their release, these ex-offenders
need access to the same opportunitiesvocational, educational,
and otherwisethat have proved to be so helpful to
their spouses. If they gain such access, we can expect many
of the same improvements in their lives, and elimination
of the source of so much crime, including incidents like
the slaughter of the Connecticut family and the murder of
the three Newark youths.
Our research has discovered a number of policies that qualify
as effective interventions:
Coordinated and shared risk-taking: Each
of the various branches of criminal justice conceives and
carries out its own discrete policies, without regard for
their impact on the ex-offenders long-term prospects
or on society as a whole. For instance, wardens understandably
devote a high proportion of their budgets to prison safety.
But while the inmates, the guards, and the wardens
reputation may be protected, that protection will not extend
to the public, which will soon be encountering newly released
inmates unprepared to rejoin society. Coordinated decision
making and resource reallocation are needed to make these
various branches, from policy development to risk management,
from legislation to parole supervision, function as a true
system that can benefit every person and institution that
comes into contact with it and its products. Toward that
end, the National Governors Association created a Prisoner
Reentry Policy Academy in 2004 and has since helped organize
state interagency workshops in 12 states. Governors in states
including Florida and Oregon have formally established their
own reentry task forces.
Reducing crime caused by failed prisoner reentry requires
one key piece of the mosaicstate criminal justice
and elected officialsto set policy through a transparent
and high-level coordinating council. Such a body would regularly
deliver research and reports to the legislature and governor.
The councils mission and its definition of success
should be clearly defined as enhancing community safety.
An emphasis on employment: America Works,
the Center for Employment Opportunities, Operation New Hope,
and the Delancey Street Foundation all focus their programs
on work. Project RIO focuses on education and work. Dozens
of other programs around the country do so as well. To promote
employment, programs must assist ex-offenders in expeditiously
reacquiring proper legal identification, including a drivers
license; adjust child-support payments and arrears; and
prohibit discrimination against those with criminal records
on grounds that do not bear on their ability to discharge
Policies that dont endanger the community:
Some people make a purely economic argument in favor of
reallocating prison spending to programs like Ready4Work,
which, they point out, cost about $4,500 per participant
per year, as against the more than $20,000 to house and
secure an inmate. However, offenders
do not commit crimes against the general public while incarcerated.
The real question for state officials is whether shaving
the sentences of some offenders and converting the savings
into supportive work programs would net fewer crimes.
A role for family, faith, and community:
Parole supervision programs should not only focus on exposing
ex-offenders to support services, such as mental health
and drug treatment; they should draw upon existing or easily
revived family and community ties. The norm, unfortunately,
is to seize on technical violations of the terms of parole.
Faith-based programs that start in prison and continue after
sentences have been served can produce meaningful outcomes
when they offer the mentoring, guidance, and hope needed
to face a future often marked by social exclusion and fear
of the unknown.
Early intervention: Working with prisoners
before they are released can increase the chances of successful
reentry. Teaching marketable skills, particularly through
demonstration and practice, prepares inmates to join the
workforce and society upon release. Starting earlyas
soon as an offender enters the systemwill, however,
require the entire criminal-justice systems cooperation.
Sufficient and reliable funding: Resources
remain a challenge for even the best reentry organizations.
Outstanding programs such as America Works of Detroit and
Operation New Hope had no ongoing source of funding at the
time of our research. As with welfare reform, we suggest
that federal and state funding take the form of block grants,
with performance incentives for local programs based on
their progress toward reducing recidivism. Third-party evaluations
that show which programs do not work well should result
in an expeditious redirection of funding.
* * *
The pending release of millions of felons poses grave
risks to our communities. Focusing resources on incarceration
alone is insufficient. Prison punishesand may, in
fact, deterbut it most certainly does not rehabilitate.
The innovative programs we studied show that some interventions
do indeed both help the offender and protect the community.
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Horror Came to a Connecticut Family, New York
Times, August 7, 2007.
- Kareem Fahim and Andrew Jacobs, Man and Youth
Held in Killings of 3 in Newark, New York Times,
August 10, 2007.
- Jeremy Travis, But They All Come Back: Rethinking
Prisoner Reentry, Research in Brief, U.S. Department
of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute
of Justice, May 2000, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pubs-sum/181413.htm.
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Views of Reentry: Implications for Processes, Programs,
and Services, University of Maryland Bureau of
Governmental Research, March 2002, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/196490.pdf;
and Joan Petersilia, When Prisoners Return to
the Community: Political, Economic, and Social Consequences,
Research in Brief, U.S. Department of Justice, National
Institute of Justice, November 2000, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/184253.pdf.
- New York City Police Department statistics, http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/downloads/pdf/crime_statistics/cscity.pdf.
Accessed February 1, 2008.
- Pew Center on the States, One in 100: Behind
Bars in America 2008, Washington, D.C..
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in America: A Tale of Two Cities,
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of South Carolina College of Criminal Justice, September
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Outcome Assessment of Correctional Treatment (OACT),
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January 2003, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/199368.pdf.
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Applying Problem-Solving Approaches to Issues
of Inmate Reentry: The Indianapolis Pilot Project,
final report, Hudson Institute, February 2003, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/203923.pdf.
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Report, Maryland Division of Parole and Probation,
January 2007, p. 37,
- Sachwald et al., An Ounce of Prevention.
- Faye S. Taxman, Christina Yancey, and Jeanna E. Bilanin,
Proactive Community Supervision in Maryland: Changing
Offender Outcomes, Maryland Division of Parole
and Probation, February 2006,
- See Innovations in American Government Award program
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Boston Globe, September 3, 2007.
- See Innovations in American Government Award program
description (above, n. 18).
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Recidivism of Mentally Ill Persons Released from Jail,
Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research,
December 2004, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/214169.pdf.
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Challenges, and Practical Solutions, Center for
Employment Opportunities and Manpower Demonstration
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Strategies, Journal of Poverty Law and Policy
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Program: Final Evaluation Report, July 2006, p.
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of the Ongoing MDRC Evaluation, Center for Employment
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- The Power of Work, p. 20.
- Michael Glauser, The Business of Heart (Salt
Lake City, Utah: Shadow Mountain, 1999), p. 12.
- Cornelia Grumman, Recycling People, News
and Observer, Raleigh, NC, September 4, 1988; and Glauser,
The Business of Heart.
- See description at http://www.eisenhowerfoundation.org/grassroots/delancey/accomplishments.html.
- Mimi Silbert, The Delancey Street Foundation:
A 30-Year Overview, Delancey Street Foundation,
- CEO Release, A Summary of the Preliminary Findings.
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An Analysis of Participant Outcomes, presented
at the American Association for Public Policy and Management,
November 9, 2007.
- William Eimicke and Steve Cohen, America Works
Criminal Justice Program: Providing Second Chances Through
Work, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research,
Civic Bulletin 29, November 2002,
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in Brief, Public/Private Ventures 4 (September
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Three-State Recidivism Study, September
30, 2001, Office of Correctional Education, U.S. Department
of Education, by Correctional Education Association,
- See Innovations in American Government Award program
- Peter Finn, Texas Project RIO (Re-Integration
of Offenders), Washington, D.C., U.S. Department
of Justice, 1998, www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles/168637.pdf.
- Dianne Solis, Convicts Get Help Going Straight
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Initiative, U.S. States News, November
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School District on Recidivism, Criminal Justice
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Accessed on February 1, 2008.
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- Project RIO: A Pilot Program for Alabama,
panel presentation at National Association of Community
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- Finn, Program Focus: Texas Project RIO.
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of Justice, September 2000,
- Mary Maraghy, President Taps Duval Effort as
National Model, Florida Times-Union, June
29, 2002, www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/062902/met_9794359.html.
- Farley and Hackman. Ready4Work in Brief.
- Tonyaa Weathersbee, City Sojourn: A Second
Chance Can Right Crime, Florida Times-Union,
May 31, 2006, www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/053106/new_21983482.shtml.
- See Innovations in American Government Award program
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Prisons, Associated Press, September 29, 2007.
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U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs,
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Programs on Recidivism, National Center for State
Courts, July 2006, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/216614.pdf.
- Adam Cohen, A Community of Ex-Cons Shows How
to Bring Prisoners Back into Society, New York
Times, January 2, 2004.
- National Law Projects Second-Chance Labor Project,
Major U.S. Cities Adopt New Hiring Policies Removing
Unfair Barriers to Employment of People with Criminal
Records, January 3, 2007,
- Pew Center on the States, Public Safety, Public
Spending: Forecasting Americas Prison Population
2007-2011, June, 2007, http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/uploadedFiles/Public%20Safety%20Public%20Spending.pdf.