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Participation in Reentry Programming Leads Ex-Offenders Back to Prison, Study Says

The results of a three-year study by researchers at the University of Kansas will likely make prisoners more skittish of reentry programming than many already are.

A report from KU's School of Social Welfare, first published in August 2011, found that the heightened post-release supervision associated with reentry intervention is linked to a greater likelihood of technical violations and quicker returns to prison.
Researchers found that in one unspecified Midwestern state chosen for the study, ex-offenders who participated in a two-phase reentry program between July 2006 and June 2009 returned to prison at a rate 44% higher than those released from prison without programming. And reentry participants weren't only sent back to prison more often: they "survived” community supervision for less time—referred to as "opportunity days" by researchers—than non-participants.

"It was an unexpected finding for the intervention group to have had more returns to prison,” according to the study, which tracked 716 ex-prisoners divided evenly between those who programmed and those who did not. Of 358 reentry programmers, 115 (32.1%) returned to prison, while just 90 (25.1%) of the 358 non-participants returned to prison.

KU researchers argued, however, that "participation in a reentry program itself is not a significant predictor of the recidivism outcomes including positive (urinalysis), new convictions, and return to prison." In fact, the study showed that while reentry programmers were more likely to be violated on parole or probation and sent back to prison within the first 12 months after release, those not in the program ended up with more new convictions (43 vs. 28) after the first, second and third years post-release.

"It is impossible to determine whether a return to prison (for a technical violation) might have successfully interdicted the commission of a new crime," the KU report said. "'Thus, the return to prison might be seen as a positive event rather than an act of recidivism.”

Still, the study appeared to question the technical violations that so often prohibit ex-offenders from fully reintegrating back into their communities, which could be "counterproductive," according to researchers, "Or at least not substantively contributive to public safety."

Researchers recommended that reentry programming be focused on offenders with criminal histories that suggest the probability of new convictions, but acknowledged that there is "no one rehabilitative intervention likely to eliminate criminal thinking and behaviors.”

"However, there is some consensus,” the report concluded, "That what is most likely to help reduce criminal behavior is a concerted and dynamic approach to rehabilitation that provides personal and tangible supports to offenders, such as education, housing, and employment while provoking systemic and attitudinal changes.”

Source: University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, “Prisoner Reentry Programming: Who Recidivates and When?” Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, August 2011;

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