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Transition and Re-entry


ICCA recognizes the tremendous growth in incarceration over the past 20 years, resulting in record numbers of people being released from prison and returning to communities. According to the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center, at the end of 2015: federal, state and local correctional facilities held nearly 2.2 million people; 4.7 million people were on probation or parole; and another 9 million were held in jails. Also during 2015, 641,100 individuals were released from incarceration – these are the men and women involved in transition and reentry.

Practitioners, policy-makers, and researchers have become increasingly concerned with how to manage the reentry process to best protect the public and with how communities can absorb and reintegrate returning individuals.

Given the large numbers of prisoners released and the lack of adequate supervision and services available to support successful community integration, it is not surprising that offenders who have served time in prison fail at fairly high rates. The National Institute of Justice reflects that within three years of release, about two-thirds (67.8 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested. Within five years of release, about three-quarters (76.6 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested. More than half (56.7 percent) of the individuals who were rearrested were rearrested by the end of the first year. There is an enormous cost to society associated with these high rates of re-offending: there are new crime victims; there is the financial burden placed on taxpaying citizens who must pay for the response to those new crimes. Public dollars are limited and may be shifted from other valuable functions and services of government.

Each new crime prevented as a result of the effective practices of a reformed and enlightened reentry system means one less crime victim. Each improved correctional practice or intervention that prevents a new crime represents a better investment of public resources.


The primary goal of prison reentry programs is to successfully reintegrate the individual who returns to their community from prison, as a prosocial and contributing member of that community. For people released from prison, barriers to successful community adjustment often include lack of education, high rates of unemployment, homelessness, addiction, mental illness, and lack of identification.

The period immediately following release, when these individuals may be most tempted to fall back into old habits, is a critical time. Lack of housing is one of the most serious reentry issues for people transitioning from prison. In many areas, there is a general shortage of affordable housing, and these men and women may be screened out by potential landlords because of their criminal record and lack of references. In addition, local interpretation of federal laws restricts many ex-prisoners from public housing and federally-assisted housing programs.

There is a relationship between employment and crime: studies have shown that having a job with adequate pay is associated with lower rates of re-offending. Unfortunately, having been incarcerated reduces the employability of a person because employers are less likely to hire someone with a criminal record. Also, being out of the labor force for a period of time prevents learning or maintaining current and viable skills.

For individuals with addictions or mental health problems, ongoing treatment in the community is necessary for successful community living. In many communities, access to these types of services is very limited.

Beyond the terms of the sentence, a convicted person can experience additional state actions that are considered to be collateral consequences such as ineligibility for education loans, loss of a professional license, or eviction from public housing. Many collateral consequences serve as a continued punishment for those convicted, without consideration of how long ago the crime occurred or the relationship between the crime and the opportunity, or a right being restricted or ignored. Creating unnecessary obstacles and continuing a sentence that seemingly never ends does not contribute to public safety.

In 2012 the American Bar Association (ABA) launched the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction ( a database of sanctions and restrictions across the country. The ABA has documented 27,254 state occupational licensing restrictions for people with a criminal record. 13 states fully prohibit anyone with a drug related offense from receiving public assistance under the Temporary Assistance to Need Families (TANF) program and there are partial bans in 23 other states. The many barriers people face following release from custody contribute to feelings of discouragement and exclusion, leading to the high rates of recidivism and reincarceration.


Ensuring that those returning home have the tools and support they need to be successful after release from custody is a fundamental public safety interest.

The process of planning for reentry should begin early in a person’s sentence and continue post release in the community.

Successful reintegration requires work by multiple government and private agencies. In the area of community supports, the more closely corrections agencies and community-based providers work together, the better they are able to provide a comprehensive web of services that could not be provided by a single agency. Access to a well-organized network of services and supportive community connections greatly enhances an offender’s ability to succeed.

A powerful tool for successful transition and reentry is the community itself. Informal social attachments and controls such as family, peer, and community influences have a more direct effect on a released person’s behavior than formal social controls. These informal relationships provide the best opportunities for pro-social activities and incentives for pro-social behavior. Education and engagement of community members that support involvement in reentry is key to the success of the prison-to-community transition.

Resources should be prioritized for people who are more likely to re-offend. The greatest reductions in future criminal behavior result from investing the greatest resources in those with the highest risk of recidivism. In addition, reentry services and practices should be guided by the well documented effectiveness research on reducing recidivism.

Providing evidence-based programming and adopting evidence-based practices further contributes to reducing the likelihood of individuals reoffending. Evidence-based programming that emphasizes cognitive-behavioral strategies with high risk offenders has proven to be successful. According to the National Institute of Corrections, research indicates that for a correctional system to be effective at reducing recidivism there must be collaboration: all organizations involved with the individual must be on the same page and fully support the reentry plan; and all partners need to engage in evidence-based practices.


  1. Treatment programs before and after release should be prioritized for those individuals who are assessed as being more likely to re-offend.

  2. Treatment programs should assess and target individual criminogenic risk factors.

  3. Supervision and services should be concentrated during the period directly following release to the community.

  4. Programs should incorporate evidence-based instruments and practices and there should be a protocol to certify that correctional programs are delivered with fidelity to models supported by the research.

  5. Each individual should have a comprehensive reentry plan, developed through a collaborative and multi-disciplinary approach. The plan should address employment, housing, and continuity of care for health, addictions, and mental health needs along with supervision conditions and requirements.

  6. Individuals who may qualify for state or federal benefits should be identified prior to release, and pre-qualified for those benefits when possible.

  7. Work release and half-way house settings support a gradual and supported return to community living. Halfway houses provide the greatest benefit for those with multiple needs, the fewest resources, and/or the highest risk to recidivate.

  8. Job programs for offenders that address not only vocational skills, but also address motivation and attitude have been more successful at improving employment during reentry.

  9. There should be a choice of intermediate sanctions, i.e. Day Reporting Centers, to respond to violations which include but are not limited to return to custody.

  10. Program services should be gender responsive and should use culturally appropriate approaches.

  11. Natural supports such as families and faith-based institutions should be engaged in the reentry plan. Research indicates the efficacy of twelve step programs, religious activities, and restorative justice initiatives that are geared towards improving bonds and ties to pro-social community members.

  12. Establish reentry teams or councils consisting of community members along with private and government agencies. Councils can identify barriers to reentry while forming collaborations and partnerships to address those barriers, enhance the self-sufficiency of people returning from prison, reduce recidivism, and improve public safety and community health.

Resources: National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction

Reviewed and adopted by the ICJA Board of Directors

Date: October 5, 2018

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