The Comeback: It has been found that community residents that have ties and social exchanges with their neighbors may contribute toward mutual trust and solidarity, promoting pro-social action. Collective efficacy theorists Sampson, Morenoff, and Earls (1999) suggested that friendship and kinship, along with residential stability, has an influence on the buy-in of community residents.
As a result of this inaccurate belief, persons affected by the crime are not prepared for the offender's release. Victims, families and/or survivors of crimes have very limited access to a restorative justice model, which allows both the victim and those affected by the crime to confront the offender in a controlled and mediated environment. A restorative justice approach allows all parties involved to discuss the effect of the crime.
Throughout the contemporary prisoner re-entry movement, research has focused on examining those factors that demonstrate fostering a successful acclimation into society. (1,2,3,4) This article will show that, in addition to employment, treatment services, suitable housing and mentoring, that community acceptance and family reunification have demonstrated a significant impact on successful re-entry. Despite its popularity, prisoner re-entry and the community's willingness to engage its formerly incarcerated neighbors remains one of the most widely underexamined topics.
Community involvement is essential to the transitioning process from prison back to the community for the criminal justice system and criminology. The extant literature on prisoner re-entry indicates that the majority of persons released from state and federal prisons return to their community of origin.
Despite the lack of related studies on the issue of community involvement and prisoner re-entry, Radice (2017) and Wikoff et al., (2012) noted that the transition from prison to the community for formerly incarcerated persons has generated concerns about public safety (increased crime and victimization). The 2007 Second Chance Act provided federal funding for treatment, education and employment services for the formerly incarcerated, and it generated an increased interest in the impact the community has on the formerly incarcerated and vice versa. Prior to the Second Chance Act, limited attention was given to the volume of persons returning from prison, and limited focus was given to the challenges in monitoring large numbers of formerly incarcerated persons under community supervision (parole/probation). The consequences associated with a lack of prisoner re-entry planning have been linked to increased recidivism. (5) According to the Pew Center on the States in 2011, 70 percent of the formerly incarcerated were rearrested, and 50 percent had violated their conditions of parole and/or probation within three years following release from governmental supervision. While persons returning from prison are not responsible for all crime; it is well documented that the majority of those released from incarceration can be expected to reoffend and contribute to a substantial share of crime. (6) According to a study conducted in 2005 by Rosenfeld, Wallman and Fornango, recent prison releases account for about one fifth of all adult arrests by police.
Released prisoners' experiences when transitioning and returning home to their families and communities are a fundamentally dynamic and social process. Obtaining employment, housing, reuniting with family and establishing positive social networks can all influence their tendencies to reoffend. The acceptance of formerly incarcerated persons by community residents is critical to their success in transitioning from prison to the community. (7,8) Existing research has examined prisoner re-entry through the lens of employment, housing, substance abuse and mental health needs. (9,10,11) However, the research is limited in that it fails to examine how contact with community members may impact recidivism or the manner in which this contact directly affects reintegration and adjustment.
Previous studies regarding post-release recidivism have demonstrated relationships between the deficiencies in housing, substance abuse and mental health treatment, education, community support and socioeconomic status. All of these factors increase the likelihood of reconviction and readmission to prison. The collateral consequences of incarceration, and subsequent effects of re-entry on family and community, have been well documented by researchers. (12,13)
Additionally, other studies focus on the importance of social integration. Social integration is one of the first ways in which individuals transitioning from prison to the community can begin to see themselves as part of society. The socialization process begins when people integrate into an existing culture with which they identify. The natural reconciliation with social groups, with which ex-offenders were, by choice or by chance, formerly affiliated, is a part of reintegration. According to T. Clear in "Imprisoning Communities," social integration is a way in which societies and groups control their members' behaviors. Understanding just how important social integration is to the transition from prison to the community can influence access to resources (job leads, housing and child care). A lack of social integration may create tension, resulting in a return to deviant behavior because of perceived social upheaval, or social or familial crisis. Social integration has the potential to generate social networks, which can be emotionally and financially supportive. (14) Part of the reintegration process for a person transitioning from prison to the community involves the cultivation of trusting relationships and networking with community members. In order for this process to begin, both community members and formerly incarcerated persons must be willing to establish a relationship.
During the re-entry process, the community can be both an asset and obstacle for the individual returning home from prison. Communities can build social networks and provide the social and cultural capital necessary to support local resources, employment opportunities and housing. (15) However, the re-entry process can be obstructed when communities are faced with poverty, joblessness and high crime rates.
Social interaction with community residents positively affects the re-entry process when neighbors are willing to engage and support the efforts of rehabilitation. When people take responsibility for the actions that occur in their neighborhood, communities with a concentrated disadvantage develop a sense of collective efficacy as a method of achieving public order. (16) Lack of positive social factors, including community and family, have a significant role in the process of returning home from prison. According to the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, lack of support and unrealistic expectations from family and community may stifle the successful transition from prison to the community.
Communities, in which formerly incarcerated persons reside, must develop and maintain a willingness to accept these individuals and become involved in building necessary social bonds during the transition process. (17,18) Satisfying daily needs through informal support networks is essential for persons transitioning from prison to the community. (19) Insufficient community support for formerly incarcerated persons transitioning out of prison often contributes to rates of recidivism. In addition, researchers have examined the association between community characteristics and criminal behavior. (20,21) Community residents who resided in areas with a propensity for sending more individuals to prison allowed for different perspectives on interactions with formerly incarcerated persons. Therefore, it is assumed that these community residents can provide unique information that others may not possess.
Although incarceration may be seen as a final response to controlling crime, the length of an incarceration stay is limited and, for most, not final. In fact, approximately 95 percent of the incarcerated population will eventually be released. Recent prisoner re-entry data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice indicates that in 2012, approximately 637,400 people were released from U.S. prisons.
As a result, family, friends and communities are likely to be affected by the transitioning process of formerly incarcerated community members returning to the community. Without successful social reintegration and adjustment, the formerly incarcerated will recidivate. Hardcastle, Bartholomew and Graffam suggested that the most significant aspect of the reintegration process is the ability to rely on community support.
Although the corrections system has some responsibility for implementing re-entry strategies on behalf of offenders, community members expressed the expectation that persons being released from prison would be fully rehabilitated in prison, and would only return to the community when they were prepared to be law abiding citizens. Previous literature has suggested that an absence of community support has the potential to affect the stability of both the offender and the community at large. According to a 2004 study by Browning, Feinberg & Dietz, community residents that have ties and social exchanges with their neighbors may contribute toward mutual trust and solidarity, promoting pro-social action. While community support is important during the transition from prison to the community process, it is essential to remember that the willingness of community residents to work with and/or live near offenders, historically, has been accompanied by the "not in my backyard" phenomenon.
Successful social reintegration
According to Visher and Travis and Reed, the experiences of formerly incarcerated individuals, when transitioning back to their families and communities, are fundamentally a dynamic social process and, for many, traumatic. Although incarceration may be seen as a final response to controlling crime, the length of an incarceration stay is limited and, for most, not final. In fact, approximately 95 percent of the incarcerated population will eventually be released. Many have experienced trauma associated with having to adapt to the social and environmental factors of the prison system. Therefore, their traumatic experience and possibly abnormal behavior will directly impact their successful transition from prison to the community, according to a 2015 study by Reed.
As a result, family, friends and communities are likely to be affected by the transitioning process of formerly incarcerated community members returning to the community. Current research on prisoner re-entry focuses primarily on recidivism factors that are not connected to the potential influence of meaningful contact between offenders and neighbors, and the effect this contact may have on reintegration and adjustment.
Without successful social reintegration and adjustment, the formerly incarcerated will recidivate. Hardcastle, Bartholomew and Graffam suggested that the most significant aspect of the reintegration process is the ability to rely on community support. Previous literature has indicated that an absence of community support has the potential to affect the stability of both the offender and the community at large. While community residents may have their reservations about their importance during the transition from prison to the community process, it is essential to remember that the willingness of community residents to work with and/or live near offenders is not an option. Persons are being released from prison with and without support every day. In an effort to eradicate the growing concerns about the release of individuals from prison, their return to new or existing communities, and preparedness of community residents, community forums, policy changes and research needs to continue in multiple areas. Enhanced policies that include community education regarding offender re-entry and community readiness is needed. As suggested by Hardcastle et al., effective reintegration policies for urban, suburban and rural communities are needed to assist in community readiness of offender reintegration. Prisoner re-entry can be a very complex issue. Educating community leaders and members is necessary to identify and address the needs and challenges of the formerly incarcerated. Enhancing communities' knowledge of prisoner re-entry with a strong emphasis on public safety has the ability to bring community stakeholders together. Educating the community has the potential to prepare community members to accept and acknowledge the need for funding and services allocated primarily to the formerly incarcerated.
(1) Bazemore, G., & Stinchcomb, J. (2004). A civic engagement model of reentry: Involving community through services and restorative justice. Federal Probation, 68, 14-24.
(2) Clear, T., Rose, D. R., & Ryder, J. A. (2001). Incarceration and the community: The problem of removing and returning offenders. Crime and Delinquency, 47, 335-351.
(3) Travis, J., McBride, E. C., & Solomon, A. L. (2005). Families left behind: The hidden costs of incarceration and reentry. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.
(4) Wikoff, N., Linhorst, D. M., & Morani, N. (2012). Recidivism among Participants of a Reentry Program for Prisoners Released without Supervision. Social Work Research, 36(4), 289-299.
(5) Turner, S., Myers, R., Sexton, L., & Smith, S. (2007). What crime rates tell us about where to focus programs and services for parolees. Criminology and Public Policy, 6, 623-632.
(6) Brazzell, D., & La Vigne, N. G. (2009). Prisoner reentry in Houston: Community perspectives. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Justice Policy Center.
(7) Clear, T. (2007). Imprisoning communities. New York: Oxford University Press.
(8) Travis, J. A., & Solomon, A. L. (2001). From prison to home: The dimensions and consequences of prison reentry. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.
(9) Lynch, James P, and William L Sabol. Prisoner Reentry in Perspective, vol. 3, Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, 2001, Prisoner Reentry in Perspective.
(10) Travis, J. (2005). But they all come back: Facing the challenges of prisoner reentry. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.
(11) Visher, C. A., & Travis, J. (2003). Transitions from prison to community: Understanding individual pathways. Annual Review of Sociology, 29, 89-113.
(12) Tyler, E. T., & Brockmann, B. (2017). Returning Home: Incarceration, Reentry, Stigma and the Perpetuation of Racial and Socioeconomic Health Inequity. Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 45(4), 545-557.
(13) Ewald, A. C. (2012). Collateral Consequences in the American States*. Social Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell), 93(1), 211-247.
(14) Hunter, B. (2009). Indigenous social exclusion: Insights and challenges for the concept of social inclusion. Family Matters, 82, 52-61.
(15) Kubrin, C., & Stewart, E. (2006). Redirecting who reoffends: The neglected role of neighborhood context in recidivism studies. Criminology, 44, 165-197.
(16) Sampson, R. J., Raudenbush, S. W., & Earls, F. (1997). Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science, 277, 918-924.
(17) Chaney, C. (2011). 'So My Family Can Survive:' Prisoner Re-Entry and the Risk and Resilience of Black Families. Journal of African American Studies, 15(1), 95-114. doi:10.1007/s12111-009-9111-8
(18) Bulow, W. (2014). The Harms Beyond Imprisonment: Do We Have Special Moral Obligations Towards the Families and Children of Prisoners? Ethical Theory & Moral Practice, 17(4), 775-789. doi:10.1007/s10677-013-9483-7
(19) Rose, D. R. & Clear, T. (1998). Incarceration social capital, and crime: Implications for social disorganization theory. Criminology, 36, 441-479.
(20) Sampson, R. J., & Groves, W. B. (1989). Community structure and crime: Testing social-disorganization theory. American Journal of Sociology, 94, 774-802.
(21) Sampson, R. J., & Raudenbush, S. W. (1999). Systematic social observation of public spaces: A new look at disorder in urban neighborhoods. American Journal of Sociology, 105, 603-651.
BY VANDA SEWARD, PH.D.
Dr. Vanda Seward is a professor at the CUNY Kingsborough Community College.
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|Date:||May 1, 2019|
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