The following post appears courtesy of Zane David Memeger is U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
On October 16, I had the pleasure of joining Deputy Attorney General James Cole, in Chester, Pa., at the first, district-wide Southeastern Regional Reentry Conference. We had the opportunity to speak with more than 200 county, state, federal, faith-based and non-profit professionals -- sharing information and practices that will help improve prisoner reentry efforts.
Today, some 2.3 million people – or more than 1 in 100 American adults – are behind bars in the United States. At some point, 95 percent of these prisoners will be released. This translates into some 700,000 people coming out of our state and federal prisons every year. Two-thirds of all released state prisoners will be re-arrested within three years, and half will return to prison. Among released federal prisoners, 40 percent are re-arrested or have their supervision revoked within three years.
In his remarks, Deputy Attorney General Cole emphasized the importance of making communities safe with these reentry efforts:
“As we continue to work with reentry projects and learn about them, we realize more and more that they need to be sustained and continuous if they are to be successful. They need to start the first day an individual arrives at the prison. The process needs to be nurtured while the individuals are incarcerated by having programs to deal with drug addiction, mental health issues, and basic job and life skills that will give them a fighting chance when they are released. After they are released, whether it is in a transitional setting or when they are living fully in the community, there needs to be follow up to support what they learned and achieved in the prison programs.”
“All of these initiatives are geared toward giving returning inmates a fresh start and an opportunity to contribute to the safety of their communities. The first and most important decision a former inmate can make is to remain crime-free. And as we develop new reentry policies and practices, we need to measure our success by how effective we are at keeping inmates from returning to prison or jail while keeping our communities safe.”
While speaking to the attendees, I highlighted the role that reentry programs can play in reducing the rates of recidivism in the country:
“The vast majority of defendants we prosecute will be returning to live in our communities upon their release from prison. Accordingly, it is vital that we take appropriate steps to ensure that formerly incarcerated individuals are provided with the tools and support necessary to successfully and lawfully reintegrate into the community. Otherwise, the vicious cycle of recidivism will simply continue as we cannot arrest our way out of the crime problems facing this district. Today's conference will clearly foster and enhance the federal, state and local agency partnerships which are key in the effort to reduce recidivism.”
The Eastern District of Pennsylvania has been active in federal reentry efforts and this event brought together the agencies and programs involved in reentry. One of the programs highlighted at the conference was the U.S. District Court’s Supervision to Aid Reentry (STAR) reentry court, an intensive 52-week court program that assists people returning from federal prison who are at high-risk of re-offending. Reentry courts are operating in over 50 districts. Reentry courts are a form of heightened supervised release that combines significantly increased judicial oversight and in-court hearings with the collaborative efforts of the probation office, the U.S. attorney office, the federal defender's office, and contract treatment/service providers. Some individual reentry courts have been examined. Studies from courts in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the District of Massachusetts generally show a reduction in recidivism for participants. In the Eastern District, the study found that only 10 percent of reentry court graduates were rearrested during the 18 month study period, compared to 31 percent of the control group.
It is clear that we face significant challenges in ensuring the safe and effective reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals. The issues are complex and the stakes are high. The key to responding to these challenges lies in working together and collaborating at events like today’s conference.
The Southeastern Regional Reentry Conference was sponsored by Widener University’s Center For Violence Prevention, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), and the United States Attorney’s Office.