Starting a Reentry Initiative

Starting a reentry initiative can be a daunting task. The overall scope of reentry can overwhelm and paralyze a government official, community leader or advocate who is eager to improve prisoner reentry in their community. A critical first step is getting the right people together to assess the problem and collecting the right information to inform your strategy. In some jurisdictions, this may mean convening people for the first time and realizing that some key data have never been tracked, whereas in other jurisdictions, it may mean identifying several existing state and local reentry initiatives, determining their relationship to each other and whether they need to be restructured, and learning from research already collected.

A few of the critical steps include:

1. Encouraging Collaboration among Stakeholders 
The first step to developing a reentry initiative must be getting the appropriate people to the table and eliciting a commitment to working together on a particular aspect of the issue.

a. Recognize the complexities of the different systems. 
Before getting representatives of these groups to the table, it is important to be familiar with the culture, funding, philosophy, service-delivery structure, and oversight of each system. More...

b. Identify key stakeholders and engage them in a discussion regarding reentry. 
Determining who to engage, when a jumble of groups, individuals, and organizations has a stake in reentry in each state, city or county, is likely to be particularly vexing. More...

c. Define the scope of the problem. 
Convening a broad range of stakeholders to diagnose existing problems regarding prisoner reentry is an essential first step to launching a reentry initiative. More...

2. Developing a Knowledge Base 
Once the appropriate decision makers are convened, the next step is to build a knowledge base about the people affected by reentry, the inventory of community resources available to meet individual and communal needs and to ensure safety, and the laws and policies that govern aspects of reentry in their particular jurisdiction. 

a. Understand who is being released from prison. 
In order to design and implement reentry initiatives that meet the needs of returning prisoners, as well as the public safety concerns of the communities at risk, policymakers must identify the characteristics of the reentry population. More... 

b. Identify what state and local policies influence and govern re-entry. 
Developers of reentry initiatives should become familiar with local laws, regulations, and various agencies' policies and procedures, so that they may align initiatives within those parameters or determine which ones should be modified. More... 

c. Identify where released prisoners are returning, and understand the characteristics and service capacities of those communities. 
Policymakers should seek to inform the development of any reentry initiative with data such as the locations to which prisoners return in their jurisdiction and where reentry services and resources and supervision offices are sited. More... 

d. Understand why released prisoners are reoffending. 
Not all released prisoners re-offend at the same rate, and understanding why some re-offend and others do not can inform the design of effective re-entry initiatives. More... 

e. Examine how prisoners are prepared for re-entry, supervised, and aided in the transition from prison to community. 
In order to assess returning prisoners' needs and how best to address them, it is important to obtain information about access to programs and services both in prison or jail as well as within the community. More... 

Source: The Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council: Charting the Safe and Successful Return of Prisoners to the Community , Council of State Governments Justice Center (2005)

Key Resources

  • The Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council: Charting the Safe and Successful Return of Prisoners to the Community, Council of State Governments Justice Center (2005) 
    Part I of the Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council enumerates many of the considerations and challenges that policymakers seeking to establish any new re-entry program, policy, or practice must address to ensure that it has a solid foundation.
  • Ready4Reentry: Prisoner Reentry Toolkit for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, U.S. Department of Labor (2006) 
    This toolkit, based on the Ready4Work model, is a promising practices guide for small to medium sized faith-based and community organizations interested in starting or bolstering their reentry efforts.
  • Reentry Mapping Network (RMN), The Urban Institute 
    The Reentry Mapping Network is a nationwide partnership between the Urban Institute and organizations in 15 cities working to map and analyze prisoner reentry and related issues in their communities. The website provides information on reentry mapping and the RMN, along with resources and sample maps for anyone interested in developing a reentry mapping project.
  • Reentry Partnerships: A Guide for States & Faith-Based and Community Organizations, Council of State Governments Justice Center (2008) 
    Faith-based and community organizations provide critical reentry services in prisons and jails and have extensive networks to link people to resources that can help them reenter communities in positive ways. This guide provides recommendations to improve collaboration between government agencies and faith-based and community organizations.
  • Planning and Assessing a Law Enforcement Reentry Strategy, Council of State Governments Justice Center (2008) 
    Planning and Assessing a Law Enforcement Reentry Strategy integrates information on effective law enforcement reentry practices with an interactive assessment to form a toolkit for designing and evaluating reentry approaches involving law enforcement agencies.