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US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs
Added to archive: May, 2004

Prisoner Reentry

Nearly 650,000 people are released from incarceration yearly and arrive on the doorsteps of communities nationwide. The federal government, through the Office of Justice Programs, offers guidance and direction to communities as they prepare for ex-offenders going and staying home. This page presents an overview of this issue and describes OJP’s Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative.


The reentry of serious, high-risk offenders into communities across the country has long been the source of violent crime in the United States. As more than 630,000 offenders are released from prison every year, the problem of their recidivism has become a crisis that affects all parts of a community. Fewer than half of all released offenders stay out of trouble for at least 3 years after their release from prison, and many of these offenders commit serious and/or violent offenses while under parole supervision. This is a significant problem because there were more than 652,000 adult offenders under State parole supervision across the country at yearend 2000 (Hughes, Beck, and Wilson, 2001).

The statistics regarding juvenile offenders present a similar picture. Juveniles were involved in 16 percent of all violent crime1 arrests and 32 percent of all property crime2 arrests in 1999. Based on the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s (OJJDP’s) Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement (Sickmund, 2000), an estimated 100,000 youth are released from secure and residential facilities every year and because the length of incarceration for juveniles is shorter than for adults, a relatively greater percentage of juveniles return to the community each year. In addition, research indicates that a small percentage of juvenile offenders commit the overwhelming majority of juvenile crime.

Some correctional officials—under pressure to cut costs—have curtailed prison programs and services that could ameliorate factors that place inmates at higher risk of recidivism after release. Tougher sentencing laws have, in some cases, removed or limited inmates’ incentives to enter available treatment programs. Long, fixed prison terms for serious offenders can sometimes have the perverse effect of returning the most risky offenders to the community with the least control and supervision. There is sometimes little continuity between institutional programs and activities, offenders’ reentry plans, and the supervision and services they receive once released.

Communities of law-abiding citizens are victimized by these offenders, making these communities less safe, less desirable places to live. Research has shown that criminal behavior can be predicted for individual offenders on the basis of certain factors.3 Some factors, such as criminal history, are static and unchangeable. Others, such as substance abuse, antisocial attitudes, and antisocial associates, are dynamic and changeable. With proper assessment of these factors, researchers and practitioners can classify groups of offenders according to their relative likelihood of committing new offenses with as much as 80 percent accuracy. Application of the risk principle requires matching levels or intensity of treatment/supervision with the risk levels of offenders. High-risk offenders require intensive interventions to reduce recidivism (Gendreau and Andrews, 1990). Since the return of these high-risk adult and juvenile offenders is imminent, corrections, law enforcement, and community service agencies should collaborate to monitor offenders while assisting them in the development and implementation of a concrete, specific reentry plan. Unless communities do this, they will continue to be victimized by these offenders.

1 Violent crime includes criminal homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault.

2 Property crime includes burglary, larceny-theft, auto theft, and arson.

3 Such factors could include, but are not limited to, prior convictions for violent offenses or serious offenses that may not be defined by statute as violent; violent, assaultive, predatory, or disruptive in-prison behavior; and other high-risk factors that may include affiliation with gangs or security threat groups.

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Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative

The Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative—which was developed by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs (OJP), in conjunction with the federal partners—is a comprehensive effort that addresses both juvenile and adult populations of serious, high-risk offenders. It provides funding to develop, implement, enhance, and evaluate reentry strategies that will ensure the safety of the community and the reduction of serious, violent crime. This is accomplished by preparing targeted offenders to successfully return to their communities after having served a significant period of secure confinement in a state training school, juvenile or adult correctional facility, or other secure institution.

The Reentry Initiative represents a new way of doing business for federal, state, and local agencies. Instead of focusing the Initiative on a competition for a limited amount of discretionary funds, the federal partners are coming together to help state and local agencies navigate the complex field of existing state formula and block grants and to assist them in accessing, redeploying, and leveraging those resources to support all components of a comprehensive reentry program. The discretionary funding available through this Initiative will be provided only to fill any gaps in existing federal, state, and local resources.

Communities selected to participate in the Reentry Initiative will have the opportunity to develop state-of-the-art reentry strategies and to acquire knowledge that will contribute to the establishment of national models of best practices. The Reentry Initiative allows communities to identify the current gaps in their reentry strategy and present a developmental vision for reentry that seeks to fill those gaps and sustain the overall strategy. Additionally, communities can enhance existing reentry strategies with training and technical assistance that will build community capacity to effectively, safely, and efficiently reintegrate returning offenders.

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Federal Partners

The Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative is supported by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and National Institute of Corrections (NIC), and their federal partners: the U.S. Departments of Education (ED), Health and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Labor (DOL) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Social Security Administration (SSA).

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Three Phases of Reentry

The Reentry Initiative envisions the development of model reentry programs that begin in correctional institutions and continue throughout an offender's transition to and stabilization in the community. These programs will provide for individual reentry plans that address issues confronting offenders as they return to the community. The Initiative will encompass three phases and be implemented through appropriate programs:

  • Phase 1—Protect and Prepare: Institution-Based Programs. These programs are designed to prepare offenders to reenter society. Services provided in this phase will include education, mental health and substance abuse treatment, job training, mentoring, and full diagnostic and risk assessment.
  • Phase 2—Control and Restore: Community-Based Transition Programs. These programs will work with offenders prior to and immediately following their release from correctional institutions. Services provided in this phase will include, as appropriate, education, monitoring, mentoring, life skills training, assessment, job skills development, and mental health and substance abuse treatment.
  • Phase 3—Sustain and Support: Community-Based Long-Term Support Programs. These programs will connect individuals who have left the supervision of the justice system with a network of social services agencies and community-based organizations to provide ongoing services and mentoring relationships.

Examples of potential program elements include institution-based readiness programs, institutional and community assessment centers, reentry courts, supervised or electronically monitored boarding houses, mentoring programs, and community corrections centers.

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More About the Initiative

To read Attorney General Ashcroft’s press release announcing the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative, click here.

"Responsible Fatherhood and the Role of the Family" is the speech delivered by Dr. Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative Grantee Meeting held in Washington, DC, on September 29–October 2, 2002.

This document is not necessarily endorsed by the Almanac of Policy Issues. It is being preserved  in the Policy Archive for historic reasons.

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