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Justice Department Inspectors Find Problems with BOP Reentry Programs

A report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Justice, released in August 2016, faulted the quality and effectiveness of the Release Preparation Program (RPP) provided to federal prisoners by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The OIG identified “several weaknesses in the BOP’s implementation of its RPP that hinder the BOP’s efforts to successfully transition inmates back into the community.”

The report was the most recent in a series of reviews that have spotlighted the BOP’s inability to properly and efficiently create and administer programs mandated by Congress and the Department of Justice. Specifically, most of the investigative studies have focused on the BOP’s failure or unwillingness to compile and publicize statistics that indicate whether its programs are achieving the desired results.

According to the OIG, the weaknesses it identified “include the BOP’s inability to ensure that RPPs across its institutions meet inmate needs; the low level of RPP completion; the BOP’s lack of coordination with other federal agencies ... and the BOP’s inability to determine the RPP’s effect on recidivism.”

The study relied upon a review of RPP procedures at several federal prisons in California. One news article noted that a “personal finance course visited by investigators involved a teacher reading verbatim from a handout for 20 boring minutes, while another lasted an hour and included considerable substance and student discussion.” One of the RPP programs did not offer instruction in resume writing or job interview skills.

According to the OIG report, approximately one-third of BOP prisoners released in fiscal year 2013 had completed an RPP program. While previously there were anecdotal indications that RPP courses were ineffective, the report eliminated whatever doubt might have existed. “Significantly, we found that the BOP does not ensure that the RPPs across its institutions are meeting inmate needs. Specifically, BOP policy does not provide a nationwide RPP curriculum, or even a centralized framework to guide curriculum development,” the OIG wrote.

Further, “we found that the BOP does not use a systematic method to identify specific inmate needs when determining the curriculum an inmate is to receive,” and “the BOP does not have an objective and formal process to accurately identify and assess inmate needs or determine which RPP courses are relevant.”

The OIG made several recommendations for improvements, including “a standardized list of courses to enhance the consistency of RPP curricula across the BOP, using validated assessment tools to assess specific inmate programming needs, using evaluation forms to collect inmate feedback about RPP courses to facilitate improvement, developing and implementing quality controls in RPP courses, exploring the use of incentives and other methods to increase inmate RPP participation and completion rates, ... and establishing a mechanism to assess the RPP’s success in providing inmates with relevant skills and knowledge that prepare them for successful reentry to society.”

While the BOP does a great job of keeping almost 190,000 prisoners locked up at any given time, apparently it needs improvement when it comes to providing reentry programs to help them succeed once they are released.

Sources: “Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Release Preparation Program,” Office of the Inspector General (Aug. 2016);;

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