Prisoner Reentry

VI. Looking Toward the Future

The growth of incarceration in America has slowed down in recent years, but it has not abated. Some states have experienced declines in their prison population, but the overall trend remains a growth trend, even though the rates of violent crime are at the lowest level in a generation. There are some signs, however, that the policy environment is shifting. A number of states have eliminated mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, others have modified their truth-insentencing calculations to allow shorter sentences, and still others have adopted parole supervision reforms that have reduced the number of individuals sent back to prison for parole violations. Perhaps most noteworthy has been a campaign to return voting rights to hundreds of thousands of formerly incarcerated individuals who were denied the franchise.

The reentry movement has grown significantly in the decade following Attorney General Reno’s call for proposals for reentry partnerships and reentry courts in 1999. Now, the terminology of reentry is well accepted, and the justice reform community has embraced the challenge of improving reentry programs. Every state in the nation and many urban jurisdictions have established reentry task forces to bring together the public and private entities that work with individuals leaving prison. These coalitions now include active participation of other service sectors that were not always active in justice reform initiatives, such as public health professionals, groups working on low-income housing, organizations devoted to workforce development, and agencies advocating for child and family welfare. It is indeed ironic that these service and advocacy communities have found common cause with the justice agencies working on prisoner reentry. One unavoidable consequence of high rates of incarceration is the high rate of overlap between the population involved in the justice system and those seeking to improve public health, child and family well-being, employment rates, and adequate housing.

One of the most significant developments in this regard was the enactment of the Second Chance Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush on April 9, 2008. In his 2004 State of the Union Address, President Bush asked his audience to consider the challenges facing people leaving prison: “We know from long experience that if they can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit crime and return to prison.” He then proposed a 4-year, $300 million prisoner reentry initiative, saying that “America is the land of the second chance, and when the gates of prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”

The Second Chance Act, taking its name from President Bush’s eloquent statement about the difficulties of prisoner reentry, signals an important moment in criminal justice policy in America, a time when the federal government exercised leadership in helping individuals, families, and communities deal with the realities of reentry. This remarkable bipartisan consensus leaves unaddressed, however, the fact that the country has chosen to place those individuals in prison in the first instance. Some advocates for policies that would reduce America’s reliance on incarceration have applauded this new national focus on prisoner reentry, believing that a pragmatic discussion of the impact of incarceration on individuals leaving prison will inevitably lead to questioning the sentencing policies that put them in prison. Proponents of this hopeful view can point to a range of sentencing reform initiatives to support their view that the reentry movement will soften the ground for broader reconsideration of the country’s punishment policies. Others argue, however, that the focus on prisoner reentry has been a distraction from the more difficult task of rolling back the nation’s imprisonment juggernaut. They point to the continuing rise in the rate of incarceration, even in a time of stable crime rates, as evidence of the intractable nature of America’s unprecedented reliance on prison as a response to crime. They ask a difficult rhetorical question:What if all the energy now devoted to prisoner reentry had been focused on sentencing reforms?

Only time will tell whether the rediscovery of prisoner reentry in the era of mass incarceration has any influence on the direction of crime policy in general, but even without an answer to that intriguing question there is no doubt that over the past 10 years the United States has, belatedly, recognized one of the inevitable consequences of the rampup of imprisonment, namely, the return home each year of hundreds of thousands of individuals, mostly men, who have been removed from their families and communities and held in the nation’s prisons. This overdue recognition, on its own terms, has the potential to restore a human dimension to our understanding of the consequences of our policy choices and to provide common ground for a movement that would ameliorate the negative effects of those policies. The reentry movement has been characterized by a burst of programmatic innovation; an array of federal, state, and foundation funding initiatives; unprecedented scholarly attention; the engagement of formerly incarcerated individuals; and a sense of optimism, all of which will serve the larger cause of justice.

Browse criminal justice research papers or view criminal justice research topics.

Bibliography:

  1. Bernstein, N. (2005). All alone in the world: Children of the incarcerated. New York: The New Press.
  2. Blumstein, A., & Beck, A. J. (1999). Population growth in the U.S. prisons, 1980–1996. In M. Tonry & J. Petersilia (Eds.), Crime and justice: Vol. 26. Prisons (pp. 17–61). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  3. Blumstein, A., & Beck, A. J. (2005). Reentry and a transient state between liberty and recommitment. In J. Travis & C. Visher (Eds.), Prisoner reentry and crime in America (pp. 50–79). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Bonczar, T. P. (2003). Prevalence of imprisonment in U.S. population, 1974–2001 (Publication No. NCJ 197976).Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics,.
  5. Braman, D. (2002). Families and incarceration. In M. Mauer & M. Chesney-Lind (Eds.), Invisible punishments: The collateral consequences of mass imprisonment (pp. 117–135). NewYork: New Press.
  6. Braman, D. (2007). Doing time on the outside: Incarceration and family life in urban America. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  7. Bushway, S., Stoll, M. A., & Weiman, D. F. (2007). Barriers to reentry? The labor market for released prisoners in postindustrial America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  8. Cadora, E., Swartz, C., & Gordon,M. (2003). Criminal justice and health and human services: An exploration of overlapping needs, resources, and interests in Brooklyn neighborhoods. In J. Travis & M. Waul (Eds.), Prisoners once removed (pp. 285–311).Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
  9. Clear, T. R. (2007). Imprisoning communities: How mass incarceration makes disadvantaged neighborhoods worse. New York: Oxford University Press.
  10. Clear, T. R., Rose, D. R., Waring, E., & Scully, K. (2003). Coercive mobility and crime: A preliminary examination of concentrated incarceration and social disorganization. Justice Quarterly, 20, 33–64.
  11. Crayton, A., & Neusteter, S. R. (2008, March 30). The current state of correctional education. Paper presented to the Reentry Roundtable on Education, New York.
  12. Cromwell, P. F., Alarid, L. F., & del Carmen, R. V. (2005). Community-based corrections (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thompson-Wadsworth.
  13. Drucker, E. (2002). Population impact of mass incarceration under New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws: An analysis of years of life lost. Journal of Urban Health, 79, 434–435.
  14. Frost, N.A., Greene, J., & Pranis, K. (2006). Hard hit: The growth in the imprisonment of women, 1977–2004. New York: Women’s Prison Association, Institute on Women & Criminal Justice. Retrieved July 20, 2013, from http://www.wpaonline.org/institute/hardhit/HardHitReport4.pdf
  15. Greifinger, R. (Ed.). (2007). Public health behind bars: From prisons to communities. New York: Springer Science + Business Media.
  16. Henry, J. S., & Jacobs, J. B. (2007). Ban the box to promote ex-offender employment. Criminology & Public Policy, 6, 755–761.
  17. Hughes, T. A., Wilson, D. J., & Beck, A. J. (2001). Trends in state parole, 1990–2000 (Publication No. NCJ 184735).Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  18. Irwin, J. (1970). The felon. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  19. Jacobson, M. (2005). How to reduce crime and end mass incarceration. New York: New York University Press.
  20. King, R. S. (2008). Expanding the vote: State felony disenfranchisement reform, 1997–2008. Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project.
  21. Langan, P. A., & Levin, D. (2002). Recidivism of prisoners released in 1994 (Publication No. NCJ 193427).Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  22. Mack, A. (Ed.). (2007). Social research: Punishment and the U.S. record (Vol. 74, No. 2). New York: The New School.
  23. Manza, J., & Uggen, C. (2006). Locked out: Felon disenfranchisement and American democracy. New York: Oxford University Press.
  24. Maruna, S. (2001). Making good: How ex-convicts reform and rebuild their lives.Washington, DC:American Psychological Association.
  25. Maruna, S., & Immarigeon, R. (Eds.). (2004). After crime and punishment: Pathways to offender reintegration. Portland, OR: Willan.
  26. Mauer, M., & Chesney-Lind, M. (Eds.). (2002). Invisible punishments: The collateral consequences of mass imprisonment. New York: New Press.
  27. Metraux, S., & Culhane, D. P. (2004). Homeless shelter use and reincarceration following prison release. Criminology & Public Policy, 3, 139–159.
  28. Mumola, C. (2000). Incarcerated parents and their children (Publication No. NCJ 182335). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  29. National Commission on Correctional Health Care. (2002). Health status of soon-to-be-released inmates: A report to Congress. Retrieved July 20, 2013, from http://www.ncchc.org/health-status-of-soon-to-be-released-inmates
  30. Pager, D. (2007).Marked: Race, crime, and finding work in an era of mass incarceration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  31. Pattillo,M.,Weiman, D., &Western, B. (Eds.). (2004). Imprisoning America: The social effects of mass incarceration. NewYork: Russell Sage Foundation.
  32. Petersilia, J. (2003). When prisoners come home: Parole and prisoner reentry. New York: Oxford University Press.
  33. Sabol, W. J., Couture, H., & Harrison, P. M. (2007). Prisoners in 2006 (Publication No. NCJ 219416). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  34. Schiraldi, V., & Ziedenberg, J. (2002). Cellblocks or classrooms: The funding of higher education and corrections and its impact on African American men. Washington, DC: The Justice Policy Institute.
  35. Simon, J. (2007). Governing through crime: How the war on crime transformed American democracy and created a culture of fear. New York: Oxford University Press.
  36. Thomas, J. C., Levandowski, B. A., Isler, M. R., Torrone, E., & Wilson, G. (2008). Incarceration and sexually transmitted infections: A neighborhood perspective. Journal of Urban Health, 85, 90–99.
  37. Thompson, A. C. (2008). Releasing prisoners, redeeming communities: Reentry, race, and politics. New York: New York University Press.
  38. Travis, J. (2002). Invisible punishment: An instrument of social exclusion. In M. Mauer & M. Chesney-Lind (Eds.), Invisible punishment: The collateral consequences of mass incarceration (pp. 1–36). New York: New Press.
  39. Travis, J. (2005). But they all come back: Facing the challenges of prisoner reentry. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.
  40. Travis, J., & Lawrence, S. (2002). Beyond the gates: The state of parole in America. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
  41. Travis, J., &Visher, C. (Eds.). (2005). Prisoner reentry and crime in America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  42. Travis J., &Waul,M. (Eds.). (2003). Prisoners once removed: The impact of incarceration and reentry on children, families, and communities.Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
  43. Warren, J. (2008). One in 100: Behind bars in America 2008. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, Center on the States.
  44. Western, B. (2007). Punishment and inequality in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  45. Western, B., & Pettit, B. (2000). Incarceration and racial inequality in men’s employment. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 54, 3–16.