Coming Home from Prison: Policy Council Studies Ways to Improve Community Re-Entry
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people are released from prison, many with health, substance abuse, economic and family problems that need to be addressed in order for them to become productive, law-abiding members of society. In 2001, the Council of State Governments convened the Reentry Policy Council to study ways to improve people's re-entry from prison to the community.
- In January 2005, the Council of State Governments released the 687-page Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council, which provides guidance to government officials, practitioners, advocates and researchers about ways to promote the successful return of ex-offenders to their communities.
- The Council of State Governments' Justice Center provided technical assistance to state and local governments working to implement better re-entry policies and programs, including:
- Salt Lake City
- Wichita, Kan.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported the Council of State Governments' work on prisoner re-entry issues from December 15, 2002, through December 31, 2007, with three unsolicited grants totaling $514,404.
Nearly 650,000 people are released from state and federal prisons each year, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics reported by the Reentry Policy Council. These former inmates often have difficulties finding jobs and housing or reconnecting with their families. Many also suffer from complicated health problems:
- Three out of four have a substance abuse problem.
- More than one in three report some physical or mental disability.
- Some 18 percent have hepatitis C.
Recidivism also is a significant problem. Two-thirds of state prisoners are re-arrested within three years of their release, and half will return to prison.
There are financial as well as human benefits from helping people remain out of prison and become productive members of society. State governments spent $29.5 billion for adult correctional facilities in 2001, according to a special report of the Department of Justice. These costs would be reduced if more people could rejoin their communities successfully.
Despite financial and human incentives to create policies that constructively address the health, employment and housing concerns of ex-offenders and their families, officials find it hard to do so because:
- A few high-profile crimes committed by ex-offenders often frame public policy responses.
- Responsibility for policies and services is scattered across numerous agencies and fields, many of which have conflicting priorities and standards.
The Council of State Governments and the Reentry Policy Council
The Council of State Governments is a nonpartisan organization that provides information, research and training services to state officials. In 2001, the council's executive committee established the Reentry Policy Council, a network of more than 100 policy-makers and practitioners with an interest or investment in prisoners re-entering their communities. A steering committee of 10 organizations interested in criminal justice issues guides the Reentry Policy Council's work. (See Appendix 1 for a list of steering committee organizations.)
The specific goals of the Reentry Policy Council are to:
- Develop bipartisan policies and principles for policy-makers to consider in evaluating re-entry issues and their responses to those issues.
- Facilitate coordination and information sharing across organizations implementing re-entry initiatives, researching trends, disseminating information or funding projects.
The policy council established three advisory groups to carry out its work:
- Supportive Health and Housing Services
- Public Safety and Restorative Activities
- Workforce Development and Employment Opportunities
RWJF has become interested in the many problems associated with prisoner re-entry in the first decade of the 21st century and has supported:
- A 2002 national forum on prisoner reentry. (See Grant Results.)
- The Corporation for Supportive Housing's work to establish supportive housing as an essential component of reintegrating ex-offenders into communities (ID#s 053461 and 065899).
- Identification and analysis of model programs for mental health in the criminal justice system (ID# 042170). This project led to support of the Reentry Policy Council.
Beginning in late 2002, RWJF provided three grants to support the work of the Reentry Policy Council.
The initial grant (ID# 045815) funded development of sets of recommended policies from each advisory group mentioned earlier:
- Supportive Health and Housing Services
- Public Safety and Restorative Activities
- Workforce Development and Employment Opportunities
The policy council convened two additional groups of about 20 people each to advise project staff on issues concerning:
- Children and families
- Crime victims
The Council of State Governments contracted with the Urban Institute to summarize research findings relevant to each policy recommendation.
Dissemination of the Report
In 2004, RWJF provided a second grant (ID# 051877) to disseminate the policy council's report. Grant funds paid for a comprehensive index of the report and printing of 3,500 copies. The Council of State Governments mailed copies to key policy-makers and officials in every state.
The Council of State Governments also developed a Web site that offers:
- Access to the report via a "click-through" table of contents, with searchable online pages for each of the 35 policy statements.
- Pages devoted to 13 issue areas relevant to prisoner re-entry.
- Re-entry research, media announcements, legislation, funding opportunities and links to other Web resources.
In 2005, RWJF provided a third grant (ID# 052197) to the Council of State Governments' Justice Center so that it could provide technical assistance to state and local officials in implementing the policy recommendations of the report. The center's work under this grant focused on three areas:
- Community capacity
- Health and human services for families and children
The center created a working group on children and families, with experts and practitioners from corrections and human services agencies, to consider the need for legislative action to improve services and support available to returning prisoners and their families. It also developed an ongoing working relationship with the Corporation for Supportive Housing, which promotes initiatives to combine affordable housing with support services, also supported by RWJF (ID# 53461); see RWJF Strategy.
In addition to providing technical assistance, the center began preparing a policy guide to help state officials and community and faith-based organizations collaborate on re-entry initiatives. It was unable to complete the guide under this project and released it at a later date. See After the Grant for details.
Other funders, including the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Open Society Institute, funded the Reentry Policy Council and the Council of State Governments' follow-up work on prisoner re-entry. See Appendix 2 for a list of other funders.
In addition to the report and Web site noted earlier, the Council of State Governments produced a report preview and two reports on housing for returning prisoners. See the Bibliography for details.
Project officials made presentations on re-entry issues to a range of groups and provided testimony to the House Judiciary Committee previewing the main report. They also were invited to and testified before legislative committees in Minnesota and New Jersey.
The main report received national media coverage, including articles by the New York Times and the Associated Press.
The project director reported the following results to RWJF:
- In January 2005, the Council of State Governments released the 687-page Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council. The report provides guidance to government officials, practitioners, advocates and researchers in ways to promote the successful return of ex-offenders to their communities. It is organized into three parts:
- "Planning a Re-Entry Initiative" explains how to build the necessary foundation for a successful re-entry initiative.
- "Review of the Re-Entry Process" addresses the development of re-entry policies and programs.
- "Elements of Effective Health and Social Service Systems" explains what improvements must occur in various fields—such as housing, employment, and health care—to promote successful re-entry.
- A description of the problem addressed, with a review of key research.
- Recommendations for implementing the policy.
- Examples of ways jurisdictions have implemented the policy.
- Council staff provided technical assistance to state and local governments working to implement better re-entry policies and programs, including:
- Salt Lake City: Project staff made a presentation to the Salt Lake City Council in support of a proposed Homelessness Assistance Rental Program, a housing and re-entry initiative. Staff also presented before a Utah state committee on homelessness and coordinated meetings between city and state officials.
- Wichita, Kan.: The Justice Center helped state, county and city officials collaborate on the New Communities Initiative, an effort to improve housing and other conditions in Northeast Central Wichita, the neighborhood with the city's highest incarceration rate. Assistance included bringing national experts on affordable housing and prisoner re-entry to Wichita and helping persuade the city council to authorize development of a new master plan for the area.
- Michigan: The Justice Center helped the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative design a family mentoring and advocacy program for incarcerated parents, their children and their children's caregivers. Center staff and national experts conducted a two-day training for officials implementing the program in Kent County.
- Arizona: The center helped the governor and legislature analyze the state's projected prison population and identify options for reducing its growth. It coordinated a meeting between state officials and outside experts about strategies to help children and families during re-entry.
- Do not focus on the vision to the detriment of its implementation. Project staff succeeded in bringing diverse groups of people to consensus on a variety of challenging and sensitive issues. Staff and participants in the process understood many aspects of program implementation but still found it difficult to translate their consensus into changes in delivering services at the front line. (Project Director)
AFTER THE GRANT
In 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law The Second Chance Act of 2007. This act provides funds for several services identified as priorities in the Reentry Policy Council report, including:
- Employment assistance
- Family counseling
- Substance abuse treatment
- Victim support
The act also establishes a Reentry Resource Center to serve as a national clearinghouse for policies and programs serving ex-offenders. The Policy Reentry Council, with a consortium of participating agencies, plans to apply to operate this center.
In 2008, with funds from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the council published a report, Reentry Partnerships: A Guide for States and Community and Faith-Based Organizations.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Reentry Policy Council
Council of State Governments (New York, NY)
- Developing consensus policies on community reentry from the criminal justice system, particularly for offenders with physical and mental health issues
Amount: $ 214,402
Dates: December 2002 to June 2004
- Dissemination of a report of consensus policies on community reentry from the criminal justice system
Amount: $ 50,000
Dates: November 2004 to February 2005
- Translating the Re-Entry Policy Council's report into policy and practice
Amount: $ 250,002
Dates: June 2005 to December 2007
Michael D. Thompson
Reentry Policy Council Steering Committee Organizations
- American Probation and Parole Association (APPA)
- Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA)
- Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH)
- National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO)
- National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors (NASDAD)
- National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD)
- National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB)
- National Center for State Courts (NCSC)
- Police Executive Research Forum (PERF)
- Urban Institute (UI)
- JEHT Foundation
- Open Society Institute
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance
- U.S. Department of Justice, Community Oriented Policing Services
- U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections
- U.S. Department of Labor, Education and Training Administration
Policy Statements From the Report of the Reentry Policy Council
- Engage key stakeholders in a joint venture regarding prisoner re-entry and focus the group's attention on a particular aspect of the issue.
- Understand the nature and scope of local re-entry issues and develop familiarity with local release policies, the characteristics of returning prisoners, and the resources and capacities of the communities to which prisoners return.
- Change cultures of criminal justice and health and human services organizations so that administrators of these entities recognize that their mission includes the safe and successful return of prisoners to the communities from which they came.
- Maximize the value of discrete local, state, federal, and private sources of funding that target people released from corrections facilities, their families, and the communities to which they return.
- Promote the integration of systems sufficient to ensure continuity of care, supervision, and effective service delivery.
- Employ process and outcome evaluation methods to bring clarity to a program's mission, goals, and public value, as well as to assess and improve program implementation, efficiency, and effectiveness.
- Educate the public about the risks posed by and the needs of the re-entry population, and the benefits of successful initiatives to public safety and the community in general.
- Establish a comprehensive, standardized, objective, and validated intake procedure that, upon the admission of the inmate to the corrections facility, can be used to assess the individual's strengths, risks, and needs.
- Develop, for each person incarcerated, an individualized plan that, based upon information obtained from assessments, explains what programming should be provided during the period of incarceration to ensure that his or her return to the community is safe and successful.
- Facilitate community-based health care providers' access to prisons and jails and promote delivery of services consistent with community standards and the need to maintain public health.
- Facilitate community-based mental health care providers' access to prisons and jails and promote delivery of services consistent with community standards and the need to maintain public mental health.
- Provide effective substance abuse treatment to anyone in prison or jail who is chemically dependent.
- Make available services and supports for family members and children of prisoners, and, when appropriate, help to establish, re-establish, expand, and strengthen relationships between prisoners and their families.
- Provide cognitive behavioral therapy, peer support, mentoring, and basic living skills programs that improve offenders' behaviors, attitudes, motivation, and ability to live independently, succeed in the community, and maintain a crime-free life.
- Teach inmates functional, educational, and vocational competencies based on employment market demand and public safety requirements.
- Provide inmates with opportunities to participate in work assignments and skill-building programs that build toward successful careers in the community.
- Inform the releasing authority about the extent to which the prisoner is prepared to return to the community (and the community is prepared to receive the individual).
- Ensure that people exiting prison or jail who it is determined pose a threat to public safety are released to some form of community supervision; use the results generated by a validated risk-assessment instrument, in addition to other information, to inform the level and duration of supervision, and, for those states that have maintained some discretion in the release process, to determine when release would be most appropriate.
- Facilitate a person's access to stable housing upon his or her re-entry into the community.
- Prepare community-based health and treatment providers, prior to the release of an individual, to receive that person and to ensure that he or she receives uninterrupted services and supports upon his or her return to the community.
- Promote, where appropriate, the employment of people released from prison and jail, and facilitate the creation of job opportunities for this population that will benefit communities.
- Connect inmates to employment, including supportive employment and employment services, before their release to the community.
- Prepare family members, victims, and relevant community members for the offender's return to the community, and provide them with protection, counseling, services and support, as needed and appropriate.
- Ensure that inmates exit prison or jail with appropriate forms of identification and that those eligible for public benefits receive those benefits immediately upon their release from prison or jail.
- Review and prioritize what the releasing authority has established as terms and conditions of release and develop a supervision strategy that corresponds to the resources available to the supervising agency, reflects the likelihood of recidivism, and employs incentives to encourage compliance with the conditions of release.
- Concentrate community supervision resources on the period immediately following the person's release from prison or jail, and adjust supervision strategies as the needs of the person released, the victim, the community, and the family change.
- Connect inmates to employment, including supportive employment and employment services, before their release to the community. Facilitate releasees' sustained engagement in treatment, mental health and supportive health services, and stable housing.
- Recognize and address the obstacles that make it difficult for an ex-offender to obtain and retain viable employment while under community supervision.
- Ensure that community corrections officers have a range of options available to them to reinforce positive behavior and to address, swiftly and certainly, failures to comply with conditions of release.
- Facilitate the development of affordable rental housing, maximize the use of existing housing resources, and identify and eliminate barriers to the development, distribution, and preservation of affordable housing.
- Equip all jobseekers with the skills needed for self-sufficiency and business prosperity.
- Ensure the availability of effective substance abuse treatment services.
- Ensure that individualized, accessible, integrated, and effective community-based mental health treatment services are available.
- Support interagency efforts to enhance child welfare and other human services programs supporting children and families; increase coordination among criminal *justice, workforce, and human services systems; and expand the capacity of community-based programs serving children and families.
- Increase positive health outcomes, reduce cost, and reduce transmission of communicable diseases by improving access to and raising the quality of existing public and private health care.
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) and Prisoner Re-Entry. Council of State Governments, Re-Entry Policy Council. New York: Council of State Governments, Reentry Policy Council, 2006.
Homelessness and Prisoner Re-Entry. Council of State Governments. Re-Entry Policy Council. New York: Council of State Governments, Reentry Policy Council.
Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council: Charting the Safe and Successful Return of Prisoners to the Community. Council of State Governments. Re-Entry Policy Council. New York: Council of State Governments, Re-Entry Policy Council, 2005. Available online.
Report Preview: Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council: Charting the Safe and Successful Return of Prisoners to the Community. New York: Council of State Governments, Re-Entry Policy Council, 2004. Available online.
World Wide Web Sites
www.reentrypolicy.org. The Reentry Policy Council Web site features the Report Preview and full report of the Reentry Policy Council. It also includes summaries of programs, national re-entry initiatives, publications and other information. New York: Council of State Governments, Reentry Policy Council, July 2004.
Report prepared by: Mary Nakashian
Reviewed by: Robert Narus
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Nancy Barrand
Program Officer: Constance M. Pechura