Abstract and Keywords
Each year in the United States, more than 600,000 individuals transition from prisons back to the community upon release. This transition process, referred to as prisoner re-entry, is often fraught with challenges as individuals who in many cases already faced barriers to opportunity prior to incarceration are further marginalized because of the collateral consequences of incarceration. Common challenges experienced by released prisoners include difficulty securing stable housing and employment, limited social support, mental and physical health problems, barriers to social and political participation, and the stigma of a criminal record. Not surprising given the barriers to successful reintegration, recidivism rates are high, and more than half of released prisoners are re-incarcerated within five years. Although punitive approaches were dominant in the United States criminal justice system from the 1970s through the early 2000s, there has been a move toward a more rehabilitative approach since that time, resulting in policy changes that reduce incarceration and support reentry, and expansion of services for prisoners before and after release. Although relatively few social workers are employed in criminal justice settings, the ripple effects of incarceration on social and health outcomes imply that social workers employed in a wide variety of settings can expect to regularly encounter individuals who are at various points in the re-entry process, or families and significant others who are affected secondarily. Social workers will be better prepared to assist formerly incarcerated individuals with an awareness of the issues faced by this population, and the unique barriers they experience in accessing housing, employment, and other resources. This article therefore aims to provide an overview of prisoner re-entry, with a focus on matters relevant to social work researchers and practitioners. As a boundary-spanning profession, social work is ideally positioned to propel forward approaches that prioritize promoting social capital, strengthening communities that receive former prisoners, and adopting a strengths-based lens to rehabilitation and promoting desistance from crime.
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