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Partnerships between states and CFBOs: challenges and opportunities.

Officials at the federal, state and local levels are focusing unprecedented attention on the millions of people released from prisons and jails each year. However, many have also recognized that government agencies alone cannot fully address the myriad challenges that individuals face when they return from incarceration.


Community and faith-based organizations (CFBOs) often supply critical services to people released from prisons and jails and, in some communities, may be the only resource for this population. Relationships with CFBOs are also key to securing federal funding for reentry efforts. For example, the Second Chance Act, which was signed into law in April 2008, authorizes $165 million in grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations for reentry programs, but requires applicants to demonstrate established relationships between agencies and community organizations. CFBOs can be a tremendously valuable partner in any reentry strategy, but bridging the gap between large government bureaucracies and small nonprofit service providers can be challenging.

Recognizing the need for concrete strategies to address these challenges, the Council of State Governments (CSG) .Justice Center, with support from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance and the U.S. Department of Labor's Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, developed a guide that offers practical recommendations for how state government officials and CFBOs can better collaborate to help people released from prisons and jails successfully and safely reenter their communities. (1) These recommendations are derived from input and advice received from government and nonprofit leaders who have long been at the forefront of the effort to integrate CFBOs into the provision of reentry services. Officials in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) and the Ohio Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives are among the leaders in the establishment of collaborative relationships with CFBOs and have provided invaluable guidance to the CSG Justice Center on the challenges and opportunities that arise when CFBOs and correctional agencies partner to improve reentry.

Specifically, there are five areas in which obstacles to collaboration frequently arise:

* Build and sustain comprehensive networks with CFBOs;

* Simplify pathways to funding for reentry initiatives;

* Recognize and understand distinct organizational cultures;

* Tailor responses to the population that will be served by a reentry initiative; and

* Ensure accountability for the efficient use of funds and gather critical data.

Build Comprehensive Networks

In every community, there are networks of individuals and organizations that provide services--such as substance abuse treatment, job training and mentoring--that individuals returning from prisons and jails need. By connecting with other state agencies (such as state departments of labor, health, education and social services), local government officials, intermediary organizations and corrections officials can greatly expand their network of service providers. Parole, probation and law enforcement officials also are often familiar with local service providers. These different agencies and intermediaries can help build a robust network that includes a wide variety of providers such as faith-based organizations from different faith traditions, diverse community-based organizations and organizations of varying size.

ODRC helped pioneer the development of citizens' circles, which are community-based partnerships that promote pro-social interaction and accountability for individuals upon their release. Circle coordinators are drawn from parole or institution staff, and are typically supervision officers, case managers or treatment counselors. Each circle involves an individual who has been incarcerated, his or her support systems, victim advocacy groups, and community members. Circle accountability plans are formed in concert with parole supervision guidelines and may address a wide variety of challenges individuals face upon release, including employment, education, family issues, mental health, substance abuse, housing and spiritual needs. (2)

To encourage faith-based and community service providers to be active members of local and statewide networks, state leaders should use their networks as a vehicle for sharing and accessing information, and ensure that information about service providers and other contacts is readily shared with relevant agencies and the public. Directories are a practical approach to achieving large-scale information-sharing. ODRC developed the M.U.S.C.L.E. Resource Guide, which is a collection of county-by-county fact sheets that provide vital information to assist individuals reentering society. The fact sheets, which can be accessed by clicking on a map on the department's Web site, include social services, human services, local, county, state and federal agencies, and other resources such as substance abuse programs, mental health counseling, veterans services commissions, libraries and educational programs, and job training and placement.

Simplify Pathways to Funding

CFBOs often require guidance to navigate grant application processes. To encourage them to pursue statewide reentry grant opportunities, state agencies may need to work with CFBOs to simplify solicitations and application procedures. Agencies should ask CFBOs how solicitations and application processes can be improved, Important questions to ask include:

* What language and terminology are difficult to understand?

* What application requirements are difficult to understand or meet?

* What aspects of the submission process could be improved?

* Are the funding range and time frame presented in the solicitation appropriate?

States may also assist CFBOs in developing competitive proposals and managing grant awards. Some state grant or contract administrators connect potential applicants with successfully funded entities or intermediaries that offer training and tailored assistance. State officials may also consider offering small capacity-building grants or stipends. Such grants can help smaller faith-based and community groups develop the skills necessary to formulate solid proposals and offset some of the costs of building their organizational capacity. State agencies may also administer periodic training sessions for current or potential grantees and contractors, or contract with private consulting groups, larger nonprofits and intermediaries to provide this type of training and technical assistance.

ODRC's Office of Policy and Offender Reentry offers a variety of trainings and support to help individuals and organizations interested in applying for federal, state and private funding. Agency staff help potential applicants improve their proposals before submission by reviewing the application, assisting in writing the proposal and providing letters of support. Staff work with potential applicants to ensure that proposals adhere to the requests for proposal, fit the mission and vision of the department, and can produce measurable outcomes. However, in cases where funding is offered through ODRC, staff and administrators in the Office of Policy and Offender Reentry do not participate in the selection process. States may also encourage CFBOs to subcontract with intermediaries that could reduce the burden associated with pursuing, receiving and administering grants and contracts. State grant or contract administrators could compile a list of intermediaries that are willing and able to serve in this capacity to share with CFBOs.

Unlike large, well-established nonprofits, small faith-based and community organizations receiving an award often do not have the resources to make the up-front investment required to launch a program. To address this problem, states can use "draw-down" awards or contracts, which allow a larger portion of the total funding award to be spent at the beginning of the contract or grant period, whenever possible.

Understand Distinct Organizational Cultures

Prisons and jails operate under a strict set of policies and procedures designed to ensure the safety of visitors, staff and the people under their custody. These rules and regulations may be unfamiliar or confusing to those who are new to correctional settings. Often, differences in organizational cultures between service providers and correctional staff can impede the ability of CFBOs and correctional staff to work together. Understanding, respecting and determining how to bridge these differences are key to successful partnerships between CFBOs and the corrections field.

To promote information-sharing and mutual support between providers from CFBOs and correctional staff, correctional agencies should require anyone who works inside a secure institution or probation or parole agency to participate in orientations and trainings. It is important for staff and volunteers of faith-based and community organizations to understand the organizational dynamics within the institution where they are working and know who they should turn to with questions and concerns. Frequent communication and regular meetings between correctional staff and representatives of CFBOs are the foundation for developing a good working relationship.

Whenever possible, correctional administrators should formalize agreements with leaders of partnering organizations that reflect a shared understanding of a reentry program's goals and design. Because aspects of the correctional agency's background checks, entrance procedures or other policies designed to maintain safe and secure institutions may impede the work of faith-based and community organizations, correctional administrators should review these policies with service providers to determine the least restrictive requirements that still meet safety standards and other facility or agency needs.

Community-based providers may not be able to gain access to a correctional facility to work with individuals, either because the facility is in a remote location, CFBO staff or volunteers are unable to pass requisite background checks, or an individual's security classification precludes contact with outside visitors. In those cases, correctional administrators should consider possible alternatives for service delivery such as teleconferencing and video technology.

To encourage collaboration with faith-based and community service providers, ODRC is revising policies and procedures regarding volunteerism, as well as educating staff on how to encourage and support faith-based and community volunteer service providers. Additionally, the department sponsored community leadership forums across the state, where CFBOs and department staff met to share information about rehabilitative programs and services and to encourage and recruit volunteers.

Tailor Responses

Studies have found that reentry initiatives that direct their programs and services to people who are at high risk of re-offending have the greatest impact on reducing recidivism. To make the most of the reentry dollars they spend, correctional administrators appropriately concentrate their programs and services on individuals at a higher risk of re-offending or those with special needs, but CFBOs may be unable or hesitant to serve those individuals.

To ensure that CFBOs are able and willing to serve targeted populations, a state might create financial incentives for organizations to focus on higher risk individuals and those with special treatment and service needs. Because service providers who work with higher risk individuals may need to navigate complex federal and state laws, states should ensure CFBOs receive relevant training and information regarding how existing laws affect their work.

Ensure Accountability

There is an increasing emphasis on accountability and performance measurement at all levels of government. Elected officials, understandably and appropriately, want to know how allocated funds have been spent and what impact those expenditures have had. However, performance measurement and accountability requirements are often overwhelming to CFBOs, particularly if they are relatively small or new. To ease the burden that performance and accountability requirements impose on CFBOs, agencies may want to simplify reporting metrics for smaller organizations or develop standardized reporting forms to facilitate information processing.

To assess whether programs and services are positively affecting an individual's transition from prison or jail to the community, independent impact or outcome evaluations must be completed. However, it is often unrealistic for CFBOs to conduct rigorous evaluations because of the resources, time and expertise required. States looking for in-depth statistical analyses of grant programs can work with intermediaries, universities and other third-party organizations to conduct formal evaluations of reentry programs funded by government grants.

The Ohio Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives gathers data on all grants it administers to assess whether program implementation is consistent with the model established in the award. To streamline data collection from numerous grantees, it has developed a service-level inventory form that can be tailored to each grant program. The form identifies eight service areas and lists specific activities that fall under each category. Grantees must complete the form monthly and submit it to the grant administrator.

When the Ohio Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives contracted with three local organizations to provide reentry services as part of its Children of Incarcerated Parents program, the agency set aside a portion of the overall grant funds for conducting program evaluations in partnership with the University of Cincinnati. After conducting a process evaluation at the end of the first year of the grant period, researchers analyzed the impact of the program based on recidivism over a 12- and 24-month follow-up period. These analyses were used by policymakers to inform decisions about where to direct funding dollars in the future.


The success of a state's reentry efforts may have a strong correlation to the ability of its agencies to establish, develop and maintain relationships with faith-based and community organizations. States like Ohio have shown that implementing common-sense measures to improve collaboration can increase the quality of reentry services while reducing the state's fiscal burden. The strategies listed above, which are described in greater detail in the Reentry Partnerships guide, can help government agencies and their community partners make the most of limited resources. To download the guide, or learn more about the Second Chance Act, visit the Reentry Policy Council Web site at


(1) Yoon, J. and J. Nickel. 2008. Reentry Partnerships: A guide for states & faith-based and community organizations. New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center.

(2) Rhine, E., J.R. Matthews II, L.A. Sampson and H. Daley. 2003. Citizens' circles: Community collaboration in re-entry. Corrections Today, 65(5):52-54.

Leah Kane is public affairs assistant with the Council of State Government's Justice Center ( The author thanks Ed Rhine, Angi Lee, John Matthews, Candace Knight, Gary Sims and Angelia Cleveland from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for their contributions to this article.
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Title Annotation:CT FEATURE; community and faith-based organizations
Author:Kane, Leah
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2009
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