For local jail inmates, going through an eight-week Re-entry program before being released can make a big difference in whether they wind up back in jail. C-VILLE reported in September on the New Beginnings Transitional Re-entry program, whose efficacy is confirmed in a newly released study, conducted by UVA’s Ann Loper and Kathryn Scheffel Fraser. “It shows that intervention in jail has some effect,” says Loper. “There is some advantage to giving intervention and attention to inmates during that time they’re in jail.”
The study followed three groups of inmates who had spent time in the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail (ACRJ). The first was a control group that received no intervention. The second group received a brief intervention: one or two hours of transitional counseling from staffers at Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR), which commissioned the study and helped carry it out.
The third group received the most extensive help. These inmates got eight weeks of classroom instruction through the Re-entry program, which covers a variety of topics from employability to mental health to financial literacy.
It’s tricky to measure recidivism, since the numbers are very different depending on whether one defines recidivism as subsequent arrests, subsequent convictions, or subsequent time in one particular jail. The length of time that inmates are followed matters too, of course. In this case, researchers kept in contact with inmates for at least six months after their release and counted those who ended up back at ACRJ. The results: 31 percent of the control group was re-booked at ACRJ within six months, compared with 14.5 percent of the Re-entry students.
The group who’d received brief interventions had a 20 percent recidivism rate, though the study cautions that the difference between this group and the control group was not statistically significant.
The study also gathered data to describe the 29 women and 141 men who participated—their housing status, education levels, self-reported substance abuse and other factors. “The individuals who are in jail are a very challenged group,” says Loper, pointing to statistics like the 45.5 percent of inmates who have no high school diploma and 24.8 percent who report frequent drug use prior to jail.
Such numbers are not surprising to those who work with the inmate population, but the study further highlights what OAR’s Ross Carew calls “a disconnect between what research is saying keeps you out of jail and what the population thinks will keep them out.” Inmates most often named the support of family and friends, along with their own good intentions, as the crucial factors they believed would keep them from returning to jail. Far fewer said that employment, housing or education would be the keys.
But Re-entry counselors say that getting control of those practical matters, along with professional support—like steering released inmates toward mental health and substance abuse treatment—are truly necessary for preventing recidivism. “[Inmates’] belief is genuine,” says OAR’s Patricia L. Smith. “Having the werewithal to follow through is another thing.” After release, many former inmates confront a complex set of challenges, including debt that results from court costs and overdue child support, strained relations with their families, and laws barring felons from public housing.
Re-entry classes for local inmates have been ongoing at ACRJ since 2005, but the intensive eight-week courses capture a small percentage of the inmates who pass through the jail (for example, fewer than 100 of 4,800 or so male inmates take the course each year). Partly for that reason, Smith says she’s interested in focusing more attention on the “middle group” in the UVA study—those who, for scheduling reasons, can’t be placed in an eight-week course, but can still receive counseling to set up an individualized transition plan.
Loper agrees that even brief interventions are much better than none, particularly if it results in inmates staying connected with OAR and other agencies after release. “It says ‘Don’t forget there’s somebody here for you,’” she says. “’Don’t forget if you haven’t gotten your food stamps, you can go [to the appropriate office] and get your food stamps.’”
Re-entry efforts are becoming more prominent in the corrections industry nationwide, as jails and prisons become ever more overcrowded. ACRJ’s rated capacity is 329, but routinely houses more than 500 people. “When is it gonna stop?” asked jail superintendent Colonel Ronald Matthews in an interview in March. “The next option is to build a bigger jail. It’s cheap to train and educate people.” The jail’s costs for the eight-week New Beginnings program are indeed very minimal, since the state Department of Corrections contributes the bulk of funding.
Loper thinks interventions pre- and post-release are a good investment for the whole community. “We know that based on what we found here, half as many people within six months who were in the eight-week intervention came back than was the case for those in control group. Fewer people were in some way victimized; fewer things went wrong. Not only is it important to the lives of those individuals, but it’s important to the safety and security of the community.”
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