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Making inmate reentry safe and successful: using the Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council.

Correctional administrators and practitioners are intimately familiar with the critical need to find ways to keep offenders released to the community from returning to jail and prison. They are now finding powerful allies and new opportunities to promote safe and successful inmate reentry through the Re-Entry Policy Council (RPC). This unprecedented, bipartisan collection of nearly 100 leading elected officials, policy-makers and practitioners working in state and local government and community-based organizations--including institutional and community corrections--has developed a comprehensive set of recommendations to reduce recidivism and help ex-offenders to succeed in their communities. These recommendations were released in January 2005 as the landmark Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council.

The commitment of state policymakers of all stripes to the important issue of reentry is demonstrated by the leadership on the RPC. "This isn't a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. It's about keeping our communities safe and saving money--and those are things both parties want to see happen," said Sen. Eric Bogue, R-S.D., who serves as co-chair of the RPC. "Every state in the nation is grappling with the enormous financial burden of incarceration and reincarceration of offenders, which is even more acute in these difficult economic times." Bogue was joined in chairing the RPC by Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry, D-N.Y., chair of the Assembly Correction Committee, and Rep. John A. Loredo, D-Ariz., minority whip. (1)

Established by the Council of State Governments in 2001, the RPC was organized to develop specific, bipartisan recommendations that would reflect the expertise of a broad spectrum of stakeholders from across the nation. Together, the members of the RPC represent nearly every component of the criminal justice system, as well as those systems that make available education, job training, job placement, housing, health and mental health care, substance abuse treatment, children and family services, victim services, and other forms of support and supervision. These members were organized into three advisory groups--public safety and restorative activities, supportive health and housing, and work force development and employment opportunities--that met both separately and together to identify the key challenges of reentry and to strategize ways for policy-makers and practitioners at all levels of government and in private and nonprofit organizations to address them.

To coordinate the contributions from this range of important, highly relevant viewpoints, the Council of State Governments partnered with 10 organizations to form a steering committee. The perspective of corrections professionals was represented by the Association of State Correctional Administrators and the American Probation and Parole Association. Other agencies included the following:

* Corporation for Supportive Housing;

* National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials;

* National Association of State Alcohol/Drug Abuse Directors;

* National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors;

* National Association of Workforce Boards;

* National Center for State Courts;

* Police Executive Research Forum; and

* The Urban Institute.

Prominent members of the corrections community also participated as members of the policy council, including Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, and past president of the American Correctional Association and the Association of State Correctional Administrators; and Timothy J. Ryan, chief of corrections, Orange County Corrections Department, Orlando, Fla., and past president of the American Jail Association.

In addition to Wilkinson and Ryan, institutional and community corrections executives from Maryland, Texas, Iowa, Missouri, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York and Utah participated in the advisory group discussions, ensuring that professionals who work closest to inmates and those under community supervision would have a voice alongside community and policy-making partners. Ryan lauded the principles of consensus-building embodied by the RPC and articulated in its report: "The recommendations of the RPC provide a powerful basis for collaborative efforts in any jurisdiction. Close coordination between county jails, state and local criminal justice agencies, and housing, health and employment providers in our communities is fundamental to stopping the cycle of recidivism and allowing our corrections system to focus on keeping the most dangerous criminals locked up," Ryan said.

Findings of the Re-Entry Policy Council

"The Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council is encyclopedic; corrections administrators and others involved with reentry should have a copy at their fingertips," Wilkinson stated. Available online at www.reentrypolicy.org, the report provides, in a single document, a comprehensive analysis of those elements essential to a successful return to the community, a review of relevant research, and a look at programs and policies that illustrate how policy-makers and practitioners in jurisdictions across the country have implemented a particular recommendation. The voluminous material is organized into three parts.

Part 1: Planning a Reentry Initiative. Part 1 reviews the steps that policy-makers and practitioners need to execute to ensure a solid foundation for new or improved reentry programs, policies or practices. Thus, individuals interested in building a reentry initiative are urged to get started by bringing together the diverse group of state and local government agencies and community-based organizations relevant to inmate reentry, and providing those stakeholders with accurate, jurisdictionally specific information about released inmates such as how they are prepared for their transition to the community, where they go after their release and the kinds of violations for which they most often return to prison. The rest of this section of the report recommends strategies for overcoming some of the central challenges that will affect those undertaking a reentry initiative, including redefining missions, funding, integrating systems, measuring performance and educating the public.

Part 2: Review of the Reentry Process. Part 2 identifies and describes the opportunities along a person's path from admission to a correctional facility to the completion of supervised release for improving the likelihood that he or she will avoid crime and become a healthy, productive member of his or her family and community. This part is organized into chapters that delineate the key events or decision points during an offender's process of reentry, including admission, institutional programming, release decision-making, transition and community supervision. This portion of the report particularly emphasizes the need for collaboration among staff inside correctional facilities and those on the outside, including community-based health care and social services providers, relatives, victims and community members. In particular, Part 2 details how a successful reentry effort requires the development of policies and programs that feature smart release and community supervision decisions, support for victims, safe places to live, substance abuse treatment, services for physical and mental illnesses, meaningful relationships (with family, peers, partners and the faith community), access to safe housing, and training, education and jobs.

Part 3: Elements of Effective Health and Social Service Systems. The final section provides a context for understanding the service systems upon which the successful implementation of reentry programs and practices are predicated. It addresses those systems that provide housing, work force development, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, children and family supports, and health care to needy communities. Part 3 offers a primer on the main components of each system, including an explanation of the population that the system serves (including, but not limited to, individuals who are reentering), the primary issues and challenges within each system, an explanation of how each system is organized and funded, and recommendations for improvements that should be made within those systems.

Though each part has a different focus, each is divided into a series of "policy statements" (a total of 35 throughout the report), which group specific recommendations to provide policy-makers and practitioners with key steps for implementing a particular aspect of a reentry initiative. Taken collectively, the policy statements represent a comprehensive vision for the safe and successful transition of a person from prison or jail to the community. Reading the entire document will help anyone concentrating on one particular aspect of reentry to understand the entire set of activities that reentry contemplates. Reviewing all of the policy statements also helps policy-makers and practitioners to appreciate how interdependent these goals are. For example, successfully linking an ex-offender to employment is nearly impossible if he or she is chemically dependent and not engaged in treatment. Engaging someone in treatment is especially hard if he or she does not have a place to live. In sum, the policy statements together provide a context for any focused reentry initiative.

Determining which policy statements to start with will depend on the leadership and resources available in a specific jurisdiction. For instance, a state work force investment board member seeking to set up a one-stop career center to reach potential workers might review Policy Statement 21, "Creation of Employment Opportunities," and Policy Statement 22, "Workforce Development and Transition Plan," and then, partnering with the state community corrections agency officials, could decide to co-locate the center with a regional parole office and educate potential employers about financial incentives for hiring people with criminal records. A director of correctional programming, on the other hand, might begin with Policy Statement 9, "Development of Programming Plan," for an overview of matching a person's strengths, needs and risks with programming that will prepare him or her for reentry. What works in one community may not be a perfect fit for its neighbor, let alone for a community halfway across the continent; within the framework provided by the RPC report, each jurisdiction should find its own solutions to these complex and interrelated problems.

Using the RPC Report

In the hands of someone committed to effecting change around one of today's most pressing policy issues, this report can be an invaluable tool, backed by the experience and convictions of respected and prominent representatives of the full spectrum of systems relevant to inmate reentry. Any one of the following strategies can serve as the first step toward building meaningful, collaborative solutions to reduce public spending, promote public safety and ensure the safe and successful return of inmates to the community.

Engage a policy-maker or other key official to an inmate reentry initiative. Often there has been at least one person key to a jurisdiction's reentry effort whose investment in the initiative has been tenuous at best. The RPC report can be used to demonstrate to a state or local government official that a counterpart in another jurisdiction has been actively involved in thinking about, and addressing, the issue of inmate reentry.

Focus interest in reentry on a particular aspect of the problem. Coalitions or task forces formed to tackle inmate reentry are often overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem. Constant analysis of the issue can become paralyzing. Selecting a particular policy statement on which to concentrate initial attention and energy can help such a group to translate its commitment into tangible action steps.

Determine how to address a particular obstacle that has impeded offenders' safe and successful transition from prison or jail to the community. Whether it involves connecting people in prison to housing before their release or prioritizing the use of limited drug treatment slots, the RPC report provides detailed recommendations that can inform efforts to address longstanding roadblocks to successful reentry.

Assess comprehensiveness of an existing reentry effort. Officials in a state or county interested in identifying any shortcomings of current reentry efforts can use the RPC report as a checklist to inventory their existing programs, policies and practices.

Find out what other jurisdictions are doing. Elected or appointed officials presented with a proposal for a new or modified program or policy can learn about other jurisdictions that have successfully implemented the proposed approach.

Learn about relevant research. Although many key research questions regarding inmate reentry remain unanswered, studies and reports analyzing different aspects of reentry abound. With research condensed into easy-to-use highlights, the RPC report is an ideal resource for readers wondering what the evidence says about a particular aspect of reentry.

Advocate for change. The RPC report provides a bipartisan platform that can be invaluable to advocates who are unanimous in their commitment to make inmate reentry safe and successful, but divided about how best to accomplish that goal in their jurisdiction. Furthermore, the report provides specificity and pragmatism to advocates whose efforts may be undermined by an agenda that is ambiguous or unrealistic.

Respond to public pressure generated by a recent tragedy. Too often, public policy is shaped in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy that has been reported widely in the media. The atmosphere in such situations is typically not conducive to the development of thoughtful policy. The RPC report is an ideal resource in such situations, as it provides a menu of hundreds of carefully considered recommendations, each of which has bipartisan support and the backing of public safety officials and service providers alike.

Educate the media. Stakeholders in the reentry process can direct journalists seeking context for a particular event or issue to relevant sections of the RPC report; its evidence and conclusions can provide a thoughtful framework for the challenges of a particular community.

Whether the RPC report is employed toward one or more of these ends, it provides an unprecedented resource to corrections professionals interested in improving the likelihood that an offender's reentry will be safe and successful. The RPC report urges corrections professionals to consider their role in ensuring that when an offender leaves a correctional facility, he or she will not return.

The Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council may be ordered, reviewed or downloaded at www.reentrypolicy.org, or by calling the Council of State Governments store at 1-800-800-1910.

ENDNOTES

(1) Term-limited after serving 10 years in the House, Loredo has been appointed chair of a blue ribbon committee established by the governor to address inmate reentry.

Katherine Brown is a policy analyst of the Re-Entry Policy Council for the Council of State Governments in New York.
COPYRIGHT 2005 American Correctional Association, Inc.
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Title Annotation:CT FEATURE
Author:Brown, Katherine
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
Words:2254
Previous Article:Assessing for success in offender reentry.
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