This guide accompanies the following article: Doreen Anderson-Facile and Shyanne Ledford, ‘Basic Challenges to Prisoner Reentry’, Sociology Compass 3/2 (2009): 183–195, 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2009.00198.x

Author’s Introduction

Crime, incarceration and prisoner reintegration are pressing issues facing the United States today. As the prison population grows at record rates so, in turn, does the reentry of prisoners into society. The transition from prison to the outside world is often difficult for post-release prisoners, their families, their communities and the larger society. Many formally incarcerated individuals do not have the skills or support to succeed outside prison walls. Unfortunately, when post-release prisoners are not successfully reintegrated, they are often returned to prison and begin the cycle of incarceration.

The following is a course designed around the basic challenges prisoners face upon reentry. The literature suggests that success depends in part on support and overcoming several barriers, such as homelessness and under/unemployment. This course begins with an examination of reentry barriers facing post-release prisoners followed by an exploration of the relationship between prisoner reentry, race, gender, family, and employment and concludes with an assessment of ongoing research and public policy.

Author Recommends

Anderson-Facile, Doreen. (2009). ‘Basic Challenges to Prisoner Reentry’. Sociology Compass, 3(2): 183–95.

Anderson-Facile’s review of current research on prisoner reentry yields interesting results. Her article examines prisoner reentry as it relates to the barriers preventing successful reintegration. Anderson-Facile begins with a look at incarceration and recidivism statistics leading readers through the barriers preventing reentry success. Barriers such as housing, family and community support, employment, and the stigma of a prison record make successful reentry difficult. Anderson-Facile concludes with a look at current reentry programs. Anderson-Facile highlights literature suggesting post-release success begins with rehabilitation and ends with community support. The author notes that many successful programs are faith or character-based. These programs focus on the individual and assist in substance abuse issues, vocational training, and transitional living arrangements. Finally, Anderson-Facile notes that programs that work in one community may not show success in other communities, therefore concluding that matching programs with communities is a critical component for assuring post-release success.

Dhami, Mandeep K., David R. Mandel, George Loewesnstein, and Peter Ayton. (2006). ‘Prisoners’ Positive Illusions of Their Post-Release Success’. Law and Human Behavior30: 631–47.

Dhami et al. examine prisoners’ forecasts of reentry success as this may have implications for how prisoners respond to imprisonment, release, and parole decisions. The authors examine sentenced US and UK prisoners’ predictions for personal recidivism. The authors also asked UK prisoners how successful they will be compared to the average prisoner. Overall, both samples yielded overly optimistic, unrealistic beliefs about personal reentry success when compared to official data. The UK participants demonstrated a self-enhancement bias by expressing that they would fair far better than the average prisoner. The authors conclude their article by discussing the implications of their findings and suggest future research possibilities.

Holzer, Harry J., Steven Raphael, and Michael A. Stoll. (2002). ‘Can Employers Play a More Positive Role in Prisoner Reentry? Urban Institute’s Reentry Roundtable’.

The authors report that in the early 21st century over 600 000 prisoners were released each year from prison and three million or more ex-prisoners were in the general population. Holzer et al. indicate that one of the greatest hurdles for a newly released prisoner is finding employment because, as applicants, they are faced with an aversion on the employers part to hiring ex-offenders. Holzer et al. explore the extent and nature of this aversion. Holzer et al. maintain that interventions by other agencies can help mediate employer aversions to hiring post-release prisoners.

La Vigne, Nancy G., Diana Brazzell, and Kevonne M. Small. (2007). ‘Evaluation of Florida’s Faith- and Character-Based Institutions’. The Urban Institute.

La Vigne et al. produced a summary of the findings from a ‘process and impact’ evaluation of two of Florida’s faith and character-based programs, also known as FCBIs. The authors’ note that FCBIs are founded on principles of self-betterment and faith development and are often ran by volunteers. The authors gathered data in the following ways: one on one interviews, semi structured interviews with staff members at all levels, focus groups with inmates, administrative data/official documents, and telephone and email communications with state corrections personnel. The authors noted that at six months, male FCBI housed participants were more successful than post-released prisoners housed in Federal Department of Corrections (FDOC) facilities.

La Vigne, Nancy G., Rebecca L. Naser, Lisa E. Brooks, and Jennifer L. Castro. (2005). ‘Examining the Effect of Incarceration and In-Prison Family Contact on Prisoners’ Family Relationships’. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice21(4): 314–35.

In this article, La Vigne, Naser, Brooks and Castro look at the role of the family in recidivism rates. Specifically, they examine the role of in-prison contact with family members on released prisoner success. This article first defines family and then looks at the quality of familial bonds at imprisonment and during incarceration. Next, they examine the inter-personal bonds in relationships, i.e., parent–child vs. husband-wife of these post-released prisoners. The authors’ findings were inconsistent. For example, in some situations in-prison contact was detrimental on family relationships and ties, wherein other cases the same contact served to strengthen the family and create a tighter network of family support for the newly released prisoner. These findings suggest further research is necessary.

Pager, D. (2003). ‘The Mark of a Criminal Record’. The American Journal of Sociology108(5): 937–75.

Pager examined the relationship between prior incarceration and race on employment on two teams of subjects. One team consisted of two 23-year-old, white men and the other team was two 23-year-old, African-American men. The two teams were nearly identical in personality, appearance, skills and employment history. The variables were race and criminal record. The findings suggest that race and employment history are important factors on post-released employment. Thirty-four percent of white applicants without criminal backgrounds received a call back while only 14 percent of black applicants without criminal backgrounds got called back. Seventeen percent of white applicants with criminal records received call backs while only 5 percent of black applicants with criminal records received call backs. These findings indicate that race and not prison record is a greater determinant of employment.

Parsons, Mickey L. and Carmen Warner-Robbins. (2002). ‘Factors That Support Women’s Successful Transition to the Community Following Jail/ Prison’. Health Care for Women International23: 6–18.

Parson and Warner-Robbins simply state the purpose of their article is to describe the factors that support the successful reentry of post-release women into the community. The authors look at a specific program called Welcome Home Ministries (WHM), a community-based program. The authors examine the demographics of the population, the rising incarceration rates, issues that lead to incarceration, and support for post-release mothers. Through qualitative interviews with women who were participating in WHM programs upon release many themes emerged. The authors argue that these themes lead to implications about what future programs need to support women who are transitioning from prisoner to general public.

Seiter, Richard P. and Karen R. Kadela. (2003) ‘Prisoner Reentry: What Works, What Does Not, and What is Promising’. Crime and Delinquency49(3): 360–88.

Seiter and Kadela examine the nature of the reentry issue and explore which reentry programs show success in reducing recidivism. The authors note a swing from modified sentencing to determinate sentencing which increases length of incarceration as an additional factor in successful reentry. Seiter and Kadela define reentry, categorize programs for prisoner reentry, and use the Maryland Scale of Scientific Method to determine program effectiveness. The authors find that programs that emphasized vocational training and employment development yield the most success.

Travis, Jeremy and Joan Petersilia. (2001). ‘Reentry Reconsidered: A New Look at an Old Question’. Crime and Delinquency47(3): 291–313.

Travis and Petersilia drive prison reform by providing research-based implications for revamping the current system of prisoner management. While prisoners have always been arrested and released, the authors point out that the numbers of both are increasing. They believe this is a call to action. Travis and Petersilia look at changing sentencing policies, changes in parole supervision, and how the removal and return of prisoners influence communities. The authors highlight the astronomical increase of prisoners at a time when sentencing policies are changing and are often inconsistent. They examine parole, the demographics of transitioning inmates, and the links between reentry and five social policies. The findings provide guidance for development of reentry policies.

Wacquant, Loic. (2002). ‘Deadly Symbiosis: Rethinking Race and Imprisonment in Twenty- First-Century America’. Boston Review27(2): 22–31.

Waquant begins his article with three abrupt facts about racial inequality and imprisonment in the United States all of which point to a ‘blackening’ of the nations prisons. The author points out that the high percentage of black people incarcerated in the United States is a direct result of four institutions; slavery, the Jim Crow System, the organizational structure of urban ghettos and the growing prison system. One of the main findings, according to Waquant, is that when laws and social reform restricted segregation (technically ended), the prisons picked up where society left off. Essentially he argues that, as evidenced by the ghettos and increasing numbers of African-Americans behind bars, the prison serves to reaffirm racial inequality.

Online Materials

Department of Justice

Urban Institute

California Departmen of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Lloyd Sealy Library at John Jay College

Sample Syllabus

Week 1: Introduction to Prisoner Reentry

Anderson-Facile, Doreen. (2009). ‘Basic Challenges to Prisoner Reentry’. Sociology Compass 3/2: 183–95.

Visher, Christy A. and Jeremy Travis. (2003). ‘Transitions from Prison to Community: Understanding Individual Pathways’. Annual Review of Sociology29: 89–113.

Week 2: Introduction to Prisoner Reentry Continued

Travis, Jeremy and Joan Petersilia. (2001). ‘Reentry Reconsidered: A New Look at an Old Question.’Crime and Delinquency 47/3: 291–313.

The Urban Institute. ‘Beyond the Prison Gates: The State of Parole in America. A First Tuesday Forum.’, November 5, 2002.

Week 3: Incarceration, Reentry, and Race

Pettit, Becky, and Bruce Western. (2004). ‘Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course: Race and Class Inequality in US Incarceration.’American Sociological Review69: 151–169.

Wacquant, Loic. (2002). ‘Deadly Symbiosis: Rethinking race and Imprisonment in twenty-first-century America’. Boston Review 27/2 (April/May): 22–31.

Marbley, Aretha Faye and Ralph Ferguson. (2005). ‘Responding to Prisoner Reentry, Recidivism, and Incarceration of Inmates of Color: A Call to the Communities’. Journal of Black Studies 35/5(May): 633–49.

Week 4: Incarceration, Reentry, and Gender

O’Brien, Patricia. (2007). ‘Maximizing Success for Drug-Affected Women after Release from Prison: Examining Access to and Use of Social Services During Reentry’. Women & Criminal Justice 17/2&3: 95–113.

Severance, Theresa A. (2004). ‘Concerns and Coping Strategies of Women Inmates Concerning Release: ‘It’s Going to Take Somebody in My Corner”’. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 38/4: 73–97.

Parsons, Mickey L. and Carmen Warner-Robbins. (2002). ‘Factors that Support Women’s Successful Transition to the Community Following Jail/ Prison.’Health Care for Women International23: 6–18.

Week 5: Incarceration, Reentry, and Family/ Home

La Vigne, Nancy G., Rebecca L. Naser, Lisa E. Brooks, and Jennifer L. Castro. (2005). ‘Examining the Effect of Incarceration and In-Prison Family Contact on Prisoners’ Family Relationships’. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 21/4 (November): 314–35.

Pearson, Jessica and Lanae Davis. (2003). ‘Serving Fathers Who Leave Prison’. Family Court Review 41/3(July): 307–20.

Roman, Caterina Gouvis and Jeremy Travis. (2004). ‘Taking Stock: Housing, Homelessness, and Prisoner Reentry,’The Urban Institute., March 8, 2004.

Week 6: Incarceration, Reentry, and Employment

Pager, Devah. (2003). ‘The Mark of a Criminal Record,’American Journal of Sociology 108/5 (March): 937–75.

Solomon, Amy L., Kelly Dedel Johnson, Jeremy Travis, and Elizabeth C. McBride. (2004). ‘From Prison to Work: The Employment Dimensions of Prisoner Reentry’. Urban Institute Justice Policy Center. October 2004, pp. 1–32.

Week 7: Incarceration, Reentry, and Employment Continued

Holzer, Harry J., Steven Raphael, and Michael A. Stoll. (2002). ‘Can Employers Play a More Positive Role in Prisoner Reentry? A Roundtable Paper’. The Urban Institute, March 20–21, 2002, pp. 1–16.

Harrison, Byron, and Robert Carl Schehr. (2004). ‘Offenders and Post-Release Jobs: Variables Influencing Success and Failure’. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 39/3: 35–68.

Week 8: Prisoner Reentry: What Works?

MacKenzie, Doris Layton. (2000). ‘Evidence-Based Corrections: Identifying What Works’. Crime and Delinquency46: 457–71.

Petersilia, Joan. (2004). ‘What Works in Prisoner Reentry? Reviewing and Questioning Evidence’. Federal Probation 68/2 (September): 4–8.

Seiter, Richard P. and Karen R. Kadela. (2003). ‘Prisoner Reentry: What Works, What Does Not, and What is Promising,’Crime and Delinquency 49/3 (July): 360–88.

Week 9: Incarceration, Reentry, Research and Public Policy

Lynch, James P. (2006). ‘Prisoner Reentry: Beyond Program Evaluations.’Criminology and Public Policy 5/2: 401–12.

Pager, Devah. (2006). ‘Evidence-Based Policy for Successful Prisoner Reentry’. Criminology and Public Policy 5/3: 505–14.

La Vigne, Nancy G. Diana Brazzell, and Kevonne M. Small. (2007). ‘Evaluation of Florida’s Faith- and Character-Based Institutions’. The Urban Institute, October 1, 2007.

Jacobson, Michael. (2006). ‘Reversing the Punitive Turn: The Limits and Promise of Current Research’. Criminology and Public Policy 5/2: 277–84.

Week 10: Incarceration, Reentry, and Outcomes

Dhami, Mandeep K., David R. Mandel, George Loewenstein, and Peter Ayton. (2006). ‘Prisoners Positive Illusions of Their Post-Release Success’. Law and Human Behavior30: 631–47.

Richards, Stephen C., James Austin, and Richard S. Jones. (2004). ‘Kentucky’s Perpetual Prisoner Machine: It’s About Money’. The Review of Policy Research 21/1: 93–106.

Suggested Readings

Evans, Donald G. (2005). ‘The Case for Inmate Reentry’. Corrections Today pp. 28–9.

Lynch, James P. and William J. Sabol. (2001). ‘Prisoner Reentry in Perspective’. Crime Policy Report3: 1–25.

‘One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008’. The Pew: Center on the States 2008, pp. 1–35.

Petersilia, Joan. (1999). Parole and Prisoner Reentry in the United States, The University of Chicago.

Petersilia, Joan (2003). When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516086-x.

Travis, Jeremy, Amy L. Solomon, and Michelle Waul. (2001). ‘From Prison to Home: The Dimensions and Consequences of Prisoner Reentry’. The Urban Institute.

Young, D. Vernetta and Rebecca Reviere (2006). Women Behind Bars. London: Lynn Rienner Publishers. ISBN 1-58826-371-1.

Focus Questions

  •  Think about the kind of crimes for which people are imprisoned. What types of crimes do you think the majority of the prisoners commit? What precursors would lead to someone being arrested and eventually imprisoned for these types of crimes? What is the likelihood that these factors remain upon release?
  •  Do you think prison should be rehabilitative or punitive?
  •  Do you think prison is always the best option for criminal behavior (in other words, is the old adage ‘if you do the crime you need to do the time’ valid?).
  •  Why are incarceration and recidivism rates different across race and class? How do you explain the disparities in incarceration rates for people of color?
  •  What kind of programs, if any, do you feel should be incorporated into a prison sentence (i.e. job training, counseling, AA, NA, religious opportunities, etc.). Suggested Culminating Activity: Students are to design a pilot program to assist prisoners successfully reenter into the community. Students must have the following parts in their report/ presentation: Prison/Community Summary (what population and community do you want to serve), Program Summary and Justification (what is the program – how does it work and why do you think it is a valuable program), Requirements for Participation in Program, Barriers to Success, Assessment/ Measurement of Success/ Failure, and Conclusion. Students must briefly site articles from this course to support their methodologies and indicate the problems they suspect they will face as they try to determine the success or failure of their program. Budgets and money are a non-issue. In the ‘real’ world budgets are always an issue but for the purpose of this assignment they are not. However, when designing your program you should consider whether your design is financially feasible.. The goal of such an assignment is for students to recognize the barriers prisoners face to successful reentry, the evidence and research that goes into creating prisoner policies, and that a program must be multi-faceted and comprehensive in order to provide a platform for former inmate success.

This sample syllabus above is modeled after a 10 week term. It is recommended for longer terms, that the following book be utilized:

Irwin, John. (2005). The Warehouse Prison. California: Roxbury Publishing Company.

ISBN: 1-931719-35-7.

John Irwin derived his data from a prison in Solano County, California. Irwin watched as incarceration rates doubled between 1980 and 2000 despite crime levels staying relatively stable. Irwin notes that most of the prisoners in his study were incarcerated for ‘unserious’ crimes and were often treated in unethical ways. Irwin begins by examining incarceration rates, the demographics of the prison population, problems prisoners faced while incarcerated, post-release difficulties and hurdles, and the societal costs of the prison super-structure. Irwin offers a thorough examination of why prisoners are incarcerated, what they face while inside prison walls, what challenges they face once released, and the financial implications of imprisoning people.