Second Chance Act: What Have We Learned About Reentry Programs So Far?
Interview with Ron D'Amico, Social Policy Research Associates. Offender reentry into the community is a pressing social problem. The number of inmates released every year from the nation's prisons increased fourfold over the past three decades.
Since the Second Chance Act (SCA) was passed in 2008, more than $250 million has been awarded to government agencies and non-profits for programs to help offenders successfully reenter society. NIJ is doing an in-depth study of 10 sites to determine the effectiveness of these reentry programs.
Partnerships Are Growing
Ron D'Amico I think one is just being aware of partners that were pre-existing in the community that the grant administrator and the grant agency might not have known about before. And I think another element is taking these pre-existing partnerships and strengthening them, so they might have had these connections before but they were very weak. And, under Second Chance, they had an opportunity for more regular meetings and more regular stakeholder meetings, and an opportunity to get together and really think about reentry planning in a more comprehensive way than they had previously. So, I think there's both elements of it, and I think it is particularly important to have corrections be connected with these different agencies and to really understand that network of providers that was available.
Services Are Becoming More 'Holistic'
There are several elements — we talked about services becoming more whole, as part of Second Chance, and there are several elements of that that I think are really important. One is this pre-release to post-release transition period. Now, under Second Chance — and BJA may clear its expectation of this — that reentry isn't something that happens at a single point in time. You really need to begin planning for the reentry process before release, and it extends through a lengthy post-release stage. So that was one element of these services becoming more whole, that wasn't pre-release here and post-release here, and these were basically disconnected activities, but really thinking of it as a continuous process, that you are preparing for release even in the pre-release stage, providing services that the individual needs to be successful post-release, and also planning for services in the post-release stage while the individual is still incarcerated.
They could begin that dialogue with the Second Chance Act participants prior to release and begin working with pre-release individuals who were serving that individual as well as starting that reentry planning process during the pre-release stage. So that was something that was transformative, that hadn't been happening before, that the social service agencies were able to get access to institutions and begin working with these individuals. That was one element of making services more whole for these individuals.
The Role of the Case Manager
Well, a case manager, we actually did some interviews with some of the individuals who were Second Chance Act participants, and it was heartening to hear some of the things they would say about their case managers: "Someone is taking interest in me, they care, they're really helping me find my way, helping me be successful." And those were the things they talked about: the connection they were making, being able to make that connection with someone who was able to provide care and guidance and assistance. And that was really what was the nature of that one-on-one relationship that individuals established with their case manager. But the case manager was able to leverage a lot of other services that were available in the communities: substance abuse treatment, housing assistance, employment assistance — for example, the American Job Centers Network, that's nationwide, provides free, to persons in need, tutorials on how to find a job and how to look for a job. So they brokered those kinds of connections; cognitive change therapy, family reunification services.
So let me explain. So I think the first thing is, this is obviously a very difficult population to work with. The problems that we hear about the formerly incarcerated were amply in evidence in this population: problems with substance abuse, mental health issues, they were being released and didn't have good opportunities or options for housing, weak family supports, poor networks in the communities. Obviously, the stigma associated with being incarcerated meant that they had poor job opportunities. They had, in some cases, most cases, very poor work histories to begin with. So the challenges of trying to overcome those obstacles and help these people in an integrative way, in a rehabilitative way, were certainly things that we would expect that these case managers had to deal with.
A Cultural Shift: Incubating a New Mindset
What we observed was, in fact, this cultural shift that POs were beginning to approach their job in a new way. They had this special training as part of Second Chance Act, and they approached their job in a new way, in a way that they hadn't before, and focused less on compliance and monitoring and more on this rehabilitative philosophy in trying to identify this holistic set of needs that the people they were working with needed to be successful.
Next Step: Impact Analysis (2015) Looking at Recidivism, Employment, Child Support, Health
So the important question we want to answer is, what are the outcomes of the participants served by the Second Chance, and how is that different from what would have happened if Second Chance hadn't come along? So that's what we mean by estimating the impact of the program. So, there's the comparison to the experiences of Second Chance Act participants with some counterfactual.
That means, do they get employment, what's their family situation like, what's their health situation, family reunification, stability of housing, and so on. So we're measuring a range of outcomes, both using administrative data — that's data we can collect from state agencies on outcomes such as employment and earnings and recidivism — but also we're administering a survey to these treatment and control group members to find out as much as we can about what happened in the 18 months since they were enrolled in the study.
Why Is Reentry — and Understand the Second Chance Act — Important?
Well, I would say it's a big deal for a couple major reasons. One, is that this is a very pressing social problem. We have huge numbers that were incarcerated over the past number of decades, and recidivism rates are very high. So, this is a huge social problem. Not only is it impactful for the individuals being served, but potentially need to get a stronger footing in their communities, but obviously it is a social issues as well, of reducing recidivism, crime and public safety, increasing public safety for all oppressing social concerns, and this is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed
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