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An Overview of Offender Reentry
By The National Instutute of Justice
Published: 04/16/2018

Incarceration At the end of 2016, 1.5 million persons were under the jurisdiction of state or federal prisons or in county jails. A majority of these persons—close to 95 percent—will return to their community [1]. Currently, there are an additional 4.6 million persons under criminal justice supervision in the community [2]. Many will return to jail or prison within three years for a myriad of reasons. As these persons transition from life in jail or prison to life in the community, or what we commonly refer to as offender reentry, it’s critical to understand the importance of this transition for offenders and their families, and its implications for public safety.

The purpose of this document is to provide an overview of the offender reentry literature, offender outcomes, and the reentry initiatives that may work to improve public safety. NIJ investments will be noted and appropriate references provided.

  • A holistic approach to offender reentry—one that emphasizes the challenges faced by offenders as they return, and the impact of their return on families, victims, and communities—is critical to addressing public safety.
  • Most criminal justice practitioners, agencies, and community- and faith-based providers do not have the resources to provide every adult leaving prison or jail with the services they need to reduce their likelihood of reoffending. The process of reentry is hindered by a lack of treatment services available to offenders before release from incarceration [3]. Additionally, for those programs offered in the corrections setting, most are not evaluated, thus making it difficult to observe “what works.” [4].
Federal Reentry Initiatives
  • Federal reentry initiatives, for example the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) and the Second Chance Act (SCA), have been key to infusing resources in jurisdictions and communities to help address offender reentry for juveniles and adults.
  • A multisite, multiyear, NIJ-supported quasi-experimental design evaluation of SVORI found that participation in SVORI programming increased receipt of services and programming for adult offenders [5]. At 24 months post-release, there were no significant differences in arrest and reincarceration rates for adult males or juveniles that participated in SVORI programming and those that did not. Female SVORI participants were significantly less likely to have been arrested at 24 months post-release; however, based on self-report data, they were equally likely to be reincarcerated during the follow-up period. At 56 months post-release, participation in SVORI programs was associated with longer times to arrest and fewer arrests for adult males and females. There was a similar finding for juvenile males at 22 months post-release.
  • NIJ supported two independent randomized controlled trial evaluations of the SCA that found similar results. Participation in SCA programming increased access to and receipt of reentry services and programs for participants and improved partnerships with community agencies [6].
  • Results from both evaluations suggest that the provision of SCA programming did not significantly reduce recidivism [7].
Risk Assessment and Service Delivery
  • The delivery of programming and services varies greatly across the criminal justice system. These processes are not standardized.
  • Validated screening and assessment tools are essential in identifying an offender’s risk and needs associated with future criminal behavior. Currently, the most dominant method for offender assessment and classification is the Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) model. Treatments based on the RNR model have been shown to significantly reduce recidivism [8].
  • The evidence-based practices framework emphasizes that criminal justice agencies and service providers should match offenders to services and programs based on their risk and needs factors.
The preceding article was reprinted from National Institute of Justice's April 2018 publication, NCJ 251554.

To view the full report, click here.

[1] E. Ann Carson, “Prisoners in 2016,” Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin (January 2018), https://w w w.bjs.gov/content/pub/pd f/p16.pdf.
[2] Danielle Kaeble and Lauren Glaze, “Correctional Populations in the United States, 2015,” Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin (December 2016), https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus15.pdf.
[3] Cheryl Lero Jonson and Francis T. Cullen, “Prisoner Reentry Programs,” Crime & Justice 44, no. 1 (2015): 517- 575.
[4] Daniel P. Mears and Joshua C. Cochran, Prisoner Reentry in the Era of Mass Incarceration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2015.
[5] Pamela K. Lattimore and Christy A. Visher, “The Multi-site Evaluation of SVORI: Summary and Synthesis,” Final report to the National Institute of Justice, April 2010, NCJ 230421, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/230421.pdf.
[6] Ronald D’Amico, Christian Geckeler, and Hui Kim, “An Evaluation of Seven Second Chance Act Adult Demonstration Programs: Impact Findings at 18 Months,” Final report to the National Institute of Justice, September 2017, NCJ 251139, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/251139.pdf.
[7] Ibid. Note: Final reports for both evaluations are forthcoming.
[8] James Bonta and D.A. Andrews, “Risk-Need-Responsivity Model for Offender Assessment and Rehabilitation, 2007-06,” Public Safety Canada, 2007, https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/rsk-nd-rspnsvty/rsk-nd-rspnsvty-eng.pdf.


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