The factors that influence a person’s criminal behavior—including characteristics and circumstances such as thinking patterns, substance addictions, or peer groups—also influence their likelihood of reoffending and determine their reentry needs. Focusing correctional and reentry programming and practices on these needs can help build a roadmap for creating individualized case plans and identifying interventions that will be the most effective in reducing recidivism.

Education and Employment

People often enter prison having had limited educational opportunities or attainment: a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) study found that the majority of people incarcerated in state prisons lack a high school diploma or its equivalent.1 Therefore, pre- and post-release educational and vocational programs for adults and youth are critical components to improving employment opportunities during reentry. A RAND Corporation study funded by an SCA grant found that, on average, people who participated in correctional education programs were 43 percent less likely to recidivate upon release and 13 percent more likely to secure employment than those who had not participated.2

Further, the stigma of incarceration and disconnection from the workforce are among the challenges people face when trying to find a job after release from prison or jail. People who have been incarcerated earn 40 percent less annually than they had earned prior to incarceration and are likely to have less upward economic mobility over time than those who have not been incarcerated.3

As part of a comprehensive reentry plan, access to education, job training in fields where there is a labor demand in the community, job readiness support, and transitional employment before and after release can help people find and sustain meaningful employment after incarceration and support their families.

Michigan Department of Corrections

Through the Michigan Department of Corrections (MI DOC) Computer Service Technician Program, men who are between 12 and 24 months from their release date are eligible to apply for training in essential skills needed for careers in the information technology field. Participants gain industry-recognized credentials by completing the Jackson College Computer Technician certificate program, where they also earn credits that can be used toward future college enrollment. In addition, the MI DOC partners with the Detroit School of Digital Technology to provide post-release services that assist program graduates with finding employment and enrolling in post-secondary education classes.

The program operates in two facilities, both of which have designated classrooms with new computers and equipment, and uses a prosocial model—a therapeutic intervention technique designed to reinforce positive social behaviors. In one facility, all participants are housed in the same unit to create a cohesive environment that allows for group study time and peer interaction, while the other location offers unlimited access to the computer classroom during school hours. Hands-on training in computer labs in both locations aims to prepare participants for taking specific technical exams upon completion of their pre-release college courses.

Due to the success of the program thus far, the MI DOC is developing a new vocational trade program that will incorporate the Computer Service Technician Program, as well as a computer coding component, in a third facility. The MI DOC will be recruiting additional participants from facilities across the state to provide even more people with opportunities that aid in successful reentry.

As of May 2018 , 78 program participants had been released from prison; 59 had been back in their communities for at least 6 months. At that time, none of the 78 released participants had returned to prison due to new crimes, 35 were employed, and 35 who were still seeking employment were assigned case managers through the Detroit School of Digital Technology.4

UTEC (Lowell, Massachusetts)

A nonprofit organization that focuses on social and economic success for young adults, UTEC serves people ages 17 to 25 who have had serious criminal or gang involvement by providing intensive programming, including paid employment and mentoring that focuses on establishing sustained relationships with caring adults. UTEC also offers workshops for eligible young adults on a variety of topics, from career exploration to personal development to civic engagement in the community. Transitional coaches work with participants to help them with behavioral health needs through services such as crisis intervention and family conflict mediation. Coaches also encourage participation in educational programming in order to equip young adults with the skills and resilience needed to maintain stable employment and avoid further criminal activity.

UTEC’s Streetworker mentoring program provides in-reach to adult and juvenile correctional facilities followed by post-release support, which begins with picking up participants on the day they are released—a seemingly simple step that helps establish a path to success from the very start of the reentry process. Young adults who choose to move forward with the program once they are back in the community are then paired with a transitional coach and gain access to employment through UTEC. UTEC offers wage-earning employment and training opportunities in its café, mattress recycling facility, culinary department, and woodshop, where participants manufacture products such as cutting boards that are sold at a local Whole Foods Market. Engaging with this hands-on training helps young adults gain essential skills that can increase their likelihood of finding well-paying jobs in the future.

As of 2017, 78 percent of young adults who completed UTEC programming were employed two years later.5

I’d spent enough time in the wrong places with the wrong people. But UTEC is the right place with the right people.
former UTEC participant

Massachusetts Department of Youth Services

The Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS) collaborates with state education agencies to support incarcerated youth by designing, implementing, and managing comprehensive pre- and post-release workforce development and educational services. One aspect of this effort is an education advocacy training for probation officers to help safeguard the rights of youth on probation in education settings, ensure that they are not removed from school before other remedial actions have been explored, and prevent them from being referred back to the justice system unnecessarily. The training focuses on (1) helping probation officers acquire all of the necessary information from schools so they can properly advocate for children under their supervision; and (2) equipping them to identify when it is appropriate to bring in a formal education advocate from the public defender’s office to ensure that the school complies with legal procedures related to having students who are on probation.


Finding stable affordable housing is a critical part of successful reentry, but it can be especially difficult for people who have been incarcerated. Nationally, there are more than 1,000 known laws and regulations that may affect or restrict housing access for people who have criminal records.6 Even without legal and regulatory restrictions, a spotty employment or rental history can negatively impact housing applications, and many landlords, property managers, and public housing authorities reject applicants who have criminal records. Additionally, returning to one’s family home may be impossible due to strained relationships or a fear of going back to the same neighborhoods and social networks in which crimes had occurred.7 Approximately 10 percent of people entering state and federal prisons have recently been homeless, and at least the same percentage of those who leave prisons are homeless for some period of time after release.8 Research suggests that if a person is not able to find stable housing upon release, he or she has a much higher risk of recidivism.9

To help provide a foundation for successful reentry in the community, corrections agencies, community-based service providers, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations can work in partnership to offer housing referrals and models that are available for the reentry population, including Housing First,10 permanent supportive housing,11 and rapid re-housing.12

Old Pueblo Community Services (Tucson, Arizona)

Old Pueblo Community Services (OPCS) offers an array of reentry and housing services for people who are assessed as having a moderate to high risk of recidivism, are homeless upon release from select Arizona Department of Corrections facilities, and have substance addictions. OPCS’s One Step at a Time (OSAT) program pairs participants with mentors who help connect them to services, including OPCSoperated sober housing, affordable housing, substance addiction counseling, and veterans’ services. OPCS also has partnerships with Veterans’ Affairs, Medicaid, local hospitals, and the Pima County health department, which further help in delivering support to this population. To better serve the community, OPCS began prioritizing Housing First and permanent supportive housing interventions over more short-term or limited housing assistance and added assisted housing units in order to reach even more people.

An evaluation of OSAT compared recidivism (defined as returns to prison for new crimes) at 12 months after release among program participants and people released from Arizona prisons with similar risk levels who did not participate in the program. Of the 73 participants who had been out of prison for at least 12 months as of March 2017, only 6 people (8 percent) had recidivated during that time, while recidivism among non-program participants was estimated to be as much as 16.6 percent13 —a 50-percent difference in recidivism rate.

[Staff] care about the people; that’s their bottom line. And when they see someone who’s been homeless for 20 years get into their own apartment in about 65 days and be happy and successful, they’re hooked. It’s experiential.
Tom Litwicki
chief executive officer of Old Pueblo Community Services

Colorado Department of Local Affairs

From 2013 to 2016, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) Division of Housing provided reentry services and housing placement for people with co-occurring mental illnesses and substance addictions through its Colorado Second Chance Housing and Reentry Program (C-SCHARP). The program was a partnership between the DOLA, the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC), and three community mental health centers. Participants started receiving evidence-based treatment services three to six months before release, and case managers from the DOC collaborated with a C-SCHARP transitional team to link participants to housing and communitybased services upon reentry. Using a Housing First model, C-SCHARP worked to move participants into permanent housing as soon as possible upon release.

C-SCHARP’s community mental health centers used a Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (F-ACT) model to provide wraparound support. As soon as they were released—and even before release, when possible—participants met with an F-ACT team to discuss a reentry plan based on their individual needs. F-ACT teams continued working with participants who had serious mental illnesses to provide the same level of care they would receive in an inpatient setting, while allowing for more independent living. Offering 24/7 support, F-ACT team members worked together to help participants with services that included substance addiction treatment, mental illness treatment, employment services, and health care, in addition to housing support. The DOLA has since expanded on the foundation of C-SCHARP with statewide programming that offers permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing for reentry.

According to the Mental Health Center of Denver’s study of people who participated in C-SCHARP between 2014 and 2016, more than half of participants had maintained subsidized, independent housing during that time period. The three-year recidivism rate for participants who successfully completed the program was 25 percent, as compared to data from the Colorado DOC, which showed a three-year recidivism rate of 56.4 percent for people with co-occurring mental illnesses and substance addictions who did not participate in the program.14

Treatment for Substance Addictions and Mental Illnesses

Compared to the general population, a disproportionate number of people in the nation’s criminal justice system struggle with mental illnesses and/ or substance addictions. A 2012 study, for example, found that people in U.S. prisons and jails are three to five times more likely to experience serious psychological distress than the total adult general population,15 while a 2009 study found that more than half of the people in state prisons and two-thirds of people in jail met the criteria for “drug dependence or abuse.”16 And these populations often overlap: up to 11 percent of the prison population have co-occurring mental illnesses and substance addictions.17 Furthermore, people who have mental illnesses are almost twice as likely to be reincarcerated for parole violations within one year of release than those who do not have a mental illness.18

Using appropriate and validated screening and assessment tools to inform supervision and services; providing evidence-based treatment within facilities; and increasing access to community-based treatment and continuity of care can help ensure that people receive the help they need to promote recovery and have a healthy transition back to the community once released from prison or jail.

Douglas County, Nebraska , Department of Corrections And The Douglas County Community Mental Health Center

As part of reentry services offered through the Douglas County Department of Corrections, and with an emphasis on client engagement and the use of evidence-based programming, the Matrix Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides treatment for people who have co-occurring mental illnesses and substance addictions. These comprehensive services include access to individual and group therapy, family and social support interventions, intensive case management, and relapse-prevention services. IOP relies on a strong collaboration between behavioral health and corrections agencies and sustains its operation through a variety of funding streams, including fees paid by people on probation; a state Medicaid waiver for substance addiction services; county funds; and state behavioral health funds via a contract with the state’s regional authority.

IOP includes 10 weeks of structured programming and 26 to 36 weeks of case management and continuing care. IOP counselors and case managers facilitate a voluntary “coffee chat” for program graduates at a local coffee shop once a week to talk through the struggles and successes they are experiencing in their recovery processes. This peer support helps the graduates tackle challenges they may face as they reintegrate into the community.

So far, 130 people have graduated from IOP, with graduation ceremonies often taking place weekly. To accommodate more participants, IOP staff expanded the program in 2017 to serve one group of participants during the day and another at night. As of June 2018, 90 percent of those receiving six months of post-release case management services had not recidivated while in the program.19

Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections

Through a collaboration between the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, the Capital Area Human Services District, the Metropolitan Human Services District, and the Council on Alcohol and Drug Addiction of New Orleans, the New Beginnings program provided evidence-based treatment for co-occurring mental illnesses and substance addictions, as well as Motivational Enhancement and cognitive behavioral therapies, from 2014 to 2016. Treatment and services began at least three months before release and continued for eight months after release.

New Beginnings counselors used a risk and needs assessment tool to determine what should be prioritized in each participant’s programming and worked to tailor case management to provide effective interventions. Transition teams also helped facilitate communication between corrections staff and community-based treatment providers to offer details about each participant’s treatment plan, giving probation and parole officers a baseline understanding of what services the people under their supervision needed to succeed when reentering the community.

New Beginnings was recognized for its achievements through a 2017 Innovation in Corrections Award from the American Correctional Association. The New Beginnings program design is now being used to address opioid addiction in Louisiana.

Mississippi Department of Mental Health

Based on a first-of-its-kind partnership among multiple Mississippi agencies, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health (MDMH) Co-Occurring Reentry Program works with the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) to provide pre- and post-release treatment and recovery support for people who are returning to Hinds County from MDOC facilities, have co-occurring mental illnesses and substance addictions, and are assessed as having a medium to high risk of recidivism. The key to the program is a multidisciplinary team that integrates correctional and behavioral health services to improve participant outcomes. Medication management, recovery support services, treatment sessions, and MDOC supervision meetings are all located at Hinds Behavioral Health Services (HBHS), a community mental health center and partner on the program, to minimize transportation issues and increase retention. HBHS also works in partnership with MDMH to link program participants with housing, medical, vocational/educational, and faith-based services. In particular, the program works to increase the availability of permanent supportive housing for people who have mental health needs and are experiencing chronic homelessness. The program uses electronic information sharing across multiple reporting platforms to measure and evaluate program and participant outcomes.

The Co-Occurring Reentry Program has also initiated system-level change by implementing standardized screening for co-occurring mental illnesses and substance addictions for everyone who comes into the state prison system, and training probation and parole agents in Thinking for a Change (T4C). T4C is an evidence-based cognitive behavioral curriculum that involves teaching people under supervision skills aimed at decreasing their risk of recidivism. The department’s goal is to achieve multi-agency buy-in for developing risk and needs assessment-informed reentry plans.

Family Support

More than half of the people who are incarcerated in prisons and jails are also parents of minor children. An estimated 2.7 million children in the U.S. have a parent in prison or jail—1 in every 28 children.20 They and other family members can face financial difficulties, housing instability, loss of emotional support and guidance, and social stigma as a consequence of having a loved one in prison. These challenges often have significant impacts on children of incarcerated parents, who have an increased risk of poor school performance,21 substance addiction, and mental health needs.22

Strong family relationships are also an essential part of reentry because people returning to their communities often rely on relatives for help with housing, transportation, and finances, in addition to emotional support.23 Programs that focus on cultivating these relationships can improve outcomes for both incarcerated people and their families by engaging families in the reentry process and providing them with pre- and post-release services. For parents specifically, these services may include parenting workshops and peer support, financial literacy classes, and organized family visits to correctional facilities.

The Up Center (Norfolk, Virginia)

The Up Center’s Strengthening Fathers program provides pre-release reentry services that aim to improve outcomes for young fathers ages 16 to 24. The program offers parenting workshops, case management services, individual counseling, and family reunification assistance to help promote healthy relationships and enhance family engagement. The program also assists with transportation for children to visit their fathers before release and, with participants’ permission, staff can work with participants’ families to engage them in case planning.

As participants enter the post-release phase of the program, they are matched with a mentor and offered housing, education, and workforce training services to aid in the reentry process. In addition, through a partnership with the Norfolk Division of Child Support Enforcement, the program offers guidance and connections to community resources to help participants overcome barriers to paying child support. Strengthening Fathers staff also maintain a strong relationship with the county probation and parole agency, which provides supervision aimed at helping those under their care achieve the goals identified in their transition plans. This collaboration further enhances participants’ chances for successful program completion.

The Strengthening Fathers Program administers On My Shoulders 24 and Within My Reach25 —research-based programs aimed at fostering healthy relationships through stress management techniques, communication skills, and cultivating gratitude. Of those who successfully completed the program from 2012 to 2016, 95 percent exhibited increased knowledge of effective parenting skills and 96 percent showed an increase in parental involvement. In addition, 76 percent had obtained a digital literacy certificate and/ or GED, and 56 percent obtained full-time unsubsidized employment, while another 24 percent obtained part-time employment.

Indiana State University

The Next Step 2 Healthy Families (NS2HF) program—a partnership between Indiana State University (ISU) and the Next Step Foundation Inc., a faith-based nonprofit organization—targets young mothers ages 18 to 24 who are incarcerated in one of six rural county jails. NS2HF connects these women with pre-release programming designed to support them in reuniting with their children after incarceration. NS2HF uses a parenting curriculum and one-on-one mentoring as well as an assessment tool that employs a gender-responsive method of collecting initial data on participant service needs. Additionally, NS2HF provides gender-specific, coordinated reentry case planning and services whereby participants learn about child health and development, how to use positive reinforcement in parenting, skills for establishing healthy co-parenting relationships, and financial literacy.

The program is particularly strong due to its use of peer mentorship. Jail commanders at the six participating county jails have permitted peer mentors to enter the facilities, even though many of those mentors have felony criminal records. NS2HF staff found that participants relate best to mentors who are also young mothers and have had similar experiences of losing custody of their children, entering into recovery, navigating services, and restoring relationships with their children. Due to the positive impact of these supportive one-on-one relationships, many of the women currently in the program plan to enroll in the mentoring certification process to become peer mentors themselves. Mentors, participants, and participants’ children also meet monthly for activities that promote parental involvement and give participants the opportunity to practice parenting skill-building in real time with input from their mentors.

Between January 1 And June 30, 2018, NS2HF’s peak enrollment was 96 participants. Of those, only five had been placed on inactive status because of failure to make contact with their mentors upon release, but two of those women subsequently returned to the program.26 NS2HF uses virtual matching software, which includes a smartphone app that pairs volunteer mentors and participants. The software also functions as a database for mentor-participant interactions and as a communication tool that allows the program manager to check in regularly with volunteer mentors.