Improving Re-entry to Reduce Recidivism
What was the challenge?
The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) releases more than 40,000 Federal inmates each year. Research indicates that presenting individuals with customized services and a strategy for re-entry (e.g., concrete steps for how to obtain a driver’s license, health insurance, shelter, transportation, employment, and healthcare) leads to significantly lower arrest rates following release. In 2016, BOP designed a re-entry handbook to assist individuals with their transition.
What did we do?
OES contributed to the content and structure of the handbook using research insights. For example, BOP and OES developed three checklists of discrete steps to take at three different points in time: immediately before release, within one week of returning home, and within one month of returning home. In many cases, the proper timing and sequencing of steps is important for preventing setbacks. For example, encouraging individuals to obtain a birth certificate and any education records prior to release can accelerate their ability to obtain a government-issued photo ID and apply for work upon release. The handbook also provides advice and resources on longer-term actions, such as how to manage one’s finances and continue one’s education. OES reviewed each recommendation to ensure it was broken down into discrete steps and connected individuals to relevant resources, such as organizations that help people navigate housing and legal services. OES also recommended that individuals be addressed as “community members” and provided ideas for how to de-stigmatize subjects such as mental health.
What did we learn?
As of September 2016, the handbook had been distributed to 20,000 individuals due to be released from prison. One individual, J.D. Wheeler III, had this to say about receiving his handbook: “I did 12 years and two months in prison. Before getting my re-entry handbook, it felt like I was in the Flintstone era. With the handbook, though, it rocketed me into the Jetsons’ era. I found that I was able to adapt to this entirely new world—especially given all of the new technology—with more awareness and insights into what I needed to do to become a member of my society. I was removed from the world for so long, I thought my transition was going to move at a snail’s pace. But the handbook’s structure helped move things along at a moderate pace. Every inmate should get a copy of this handbook at least 30-45 days before they leave prison so they can already know what is going on, what to expect, and have time to really dig in and understand what steps they can take before and after release. I am an ambitious person and I want something out of my life, and the handbook gave me the knowledge I needed.”