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Article

Sarah R. Bostrom and Melinda Tasca

The re-entry experiences of women are an important area of inquiry given the continued rise in female imprisonment. Since most inmates will be released, reintegration is a chief policy concern. Like men, re-entering women tend to be disproportionately of color, poor, undereducated, and parents of minor children. What sets women apart from men, however, is the accumulation and frequency of the adversities they encounter. To be sure, co-occurring histories of trauma, mental health, and substance abuse—commonly referred to as the “triple threat”—along with physical health concerns and poverty, distinctly shape female re-entry. Women with children face additional burdens due to their status as mothers. In particular, women’s responsibilities for children before incarceration, contact with children during confinement, and expected parental roles after release are quite different than those of fathers. Pressures to assume mothering roles and challenges with parent-child reunification can further complicate re-entry. Women require social support to successfully transition from prison to home. Social support helps women meet competing demands related to housing, employment, transportation, childcare, and community supervision. This assistance typically comes from informal networks that are invaluable to re-entry success. At the same time, women’s relationships are often highly complicated and can be sources of stress. While prosocial relationships are protective, unhealthy ties can contribute to re-entry failure. With respect to formal social support, gender-responsive interventions that target the unique stressors of formerly incarcerated women offer the most promise for effecting post-release change. Yet, such programs are not widely available or accessible to this population. Finally, it is important to take stock of primary sources used in the study of female re-entry to identify ways to advance research and policy in this area.

Article

James M. Binnall and Maryanne Alderson

Reentry is the process of ending a period of incarceration, leaving jail or prison, and returning to society. Not to be confused with reintegration or recidivism, reentry is not a measure of success or failure. Instead, reentry is a journey, and no two reentries are analogous. The reentry process is individualized and highly dependent on a number of factors including a reentering individual’s sentence structure, incarceration experience, and postrelease resources. Depending on these factors, a reentering individual may find his or her return to the free world a relatively smooth transition or a task riddled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. To navigate such obstacles, most reentering individuals need assistance. Traditionally, reentry assistance was provided by the state, through correctional programming in prison or by parole authorities tasked with monitoring a reentering individual postrelease. In recent years, nonprofit and faith-based organizations have increasingly been a part of innovative reentry initiatives. There has also been a recent expansion of Internet-based reentry resources, such as reentry.net and exoffenders.net, which allow those experiencing reentry to obtain reentry resources online. Reentry initiatives typically take two forms: deficit-based and strengths-based. Deficit-based reentry models use actuarial assessments to identify a reentering individual’s criminogenic risks and needs. In theory, deficit-based models then address those risks and needs through measured, tailored responses. Critics of deficit-based models argue that by focusing only on risks and needs, such approaches overlook reentering individuals’ talents and skills. Acknowledging these criticisms, many reentry initiatives have shifted away from the traditional deficits-centered model of reentry and toward a strengths-based approach. Rather than focusing on the risks and needs of a reentering individual, strengths-based approaches highlight the attributes of reentering individuals and draw on the experiences of former offenders who have successfully navigated their own reentry and best understand the pitfalls of the process. Recent, albeit limited empirical and experiential evidence supports the strength-based approach to reentry, suggesting that the concerns and insights of those who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system make the transition from incarceration to freedom a smoother one.

Article

Mass imprisonment in the United States is an epidemic that has spread across five generations affecting millions of individuals, their families, and hundreds of communities. The United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world—with over 2 million behind bars and another 5 to 7 million under community supervision on parole and probation. With 5% of the world’s population, the United States has 25% of all the world’s prisoners. This U.S. system imposes many punitive policies, holding more of its citizens in isolation and solitary confinement than all the other prisons of the world combined and imposing the highest rates of life sentences of any nation. This public health analysis of mass incarceration in the United States (first proposed in Ernest Drucker’s 2011 book, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America) must therefore also address the high rates of prisoner reentry that accompany it—with over 600,000 U.S. prisoners reentering society each year—with the highest recidivism rate of any nation. This population is disproportionally poor and members of America’s large minority populations (African Americans and Latinos). The public health model provides a new tool for ending the American epidemic of mass imprisonment and, of equal importance, healing those who have survived its blows. This stage of the American story of mass incarceration is covered in Drucker’s 2018 book, Decarcerating America: From Mass Punishment to Public Health. But releasing people from prisons is not enough—the taint of punishment has a long-lasting and debilitating effect on the millions who return from prison to their home communities—facing social stigma and the many restrictions placed upon them as part of the conditions of parole—including limits of their access to public education, healthcare, and housing—as well as convicted felons’ loss of the right to vote. The United States badly needs a paradigm shift that replaces these impediments to successful reentry after prison, creating instead a positive place and normal life for this population in the outside world.

Article

In the contemporary era of “tough on crime” policies and the globalized drug war, the number of women in the criminal justice system has increased across several countries. Women’s involvement in the system is not limited to imprisonment, however, and many criminalized women (those involved in the justice system with the assigned status of defendants, offenders, etc.) participate in community-based programs after serving sentences in prisons or jails or as an alternative to incarceration. Criminalized women encounter multiple interlocking forms of oppression based on sexuality, race and ethnicity, class, disability, immigration status, punishment status, and (importantly) gender. Gendered ideas and norms shape the way women are treated not only by the carceral state but also by community-based, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs have played an increasingly prominent role in the provision of social services since the 1970s. Organizations working with criminalized people in more affluent, English-speaking nations commonly address job readiness, psychological and substance issues, parenting, sexuality, romantic relationships, and spirituality, among other important areas. Some NGOs work with criminalized people as a condition of their criminal sentences. Criminalized women’s self-reported needs are great, yet resources are often scarce, inadequate, and unwelcoming, particularly for women of color. Responding to a dearth of services available to women, feminists formed NGOs focused on this population beginning in the 1970s; women are also served at NGOs that work with men. “Reducing offending” and “empowerment” are frequently stated goals at NGOs that work with women, but these goals can be interpreted widely depending on the views of NGO leadership and staff about gender. NGOs can approach women’s gender in a variety of ways. For instance, they can resist or affirm the dominant views used by the carceral state that criminalize and stigmatize women. Their approaches matter because of the implications for equality of opportunities that follow. Two major philosophies can motivate the outreach that NGOs do with criminalized women. Gender sameness disregards gender differences and stresses that it is necessary to treat women “like men” to reverse the disadvantages and marginalization that women encounter. Gender difference emphasizes the importance of treating men or women based on their purportedly unique characteristics and social experiences. Much critical feminist research on NGOs that work with criminalized women has studied programs formed around ideas of gender difference. Critical researchers have examined gender in organizational work with women outside of prisons, in community-based prisons run by NGOs, and in more traditional prisons. Researchers have examined practices at programs, the philosophies underpinning them, and their implications. This body of work shows that NGOs can perpetuate gendered exclusions and may expand the power of the carceral state. In their prescriptions for responding to the status quo, critical researchers make arguments along a spectrum from advocating more moderate social change, such as by creating more effective programs, to more radical social change, such as by ending community-based programs that perpetuate carceral control.

Article

Re-entry following incarceration is a complex issue in the contemporary United States. Mass incarceration and tough on crime policies have contributed to a system that disproportionately punishes and incarcerates people of color. For the correctional system, these racial and ethnic disparities translate to issues related to “successful” re-entry following incarceration. Traditionally, re-entry success has been considered to be desistance from crime. However, ideas about re-entry success have developed to include broader concepts of successful reintegration into society. Prominent scholarship surrounding criminal justice policies, procedures, and processes has recognized and made strides in addressing facilitators and barriers to successful reintegration for formerly incarcerated individuals, and has uncovered obstacles uniquely faced by minorities. Specifically, researchers have identified these race-related correctional concerns in areas such as probation and parole experiences, familial ties, resource access, employment and educational opportunities, community disadvantage, civic disenfranchisement, and health. Recent scholarship has provided a wealth of considerations for addressing these convoluted re-entry issues. Withal, research indicates that a shift toward more evidence-based policies and interventions shows the most promise for improving re-entry outcomes for minorities, and the need for more equitable policies and practices involving incarcerated and re-entering persons. Assisting re-entering individuals with accessing vital resources (e.g., health care, housing, government assistance), equipping them with necessary skills to live stable and independent lives (e.g., prison-based services, educational assistance, professional training, employment opportunities), promoting healthy connections with their families and communities, and restoring their civic power are all steps that evidence suggests improve re-entry success and reintegration. Continued research on these areas and race is essential to understanding the dimensions of disparate re-entry experiences and creating an even road to successful reintegration after incarceration.