The U.S. Department of Justice has designated April 24-30 as National Reentry Week, highlighting efforts to support successful community reintegration for men and women who have been incarcerated.
Renewed community reentry strategies are part of a wave of criminal justice reforms across the country. These initiatives involve reversing decades-old policies and practices that not only have fueled record incarceration rates, but also have created substantial reentry barriers for people who have paid their debt to society. Such barriers include practices and policies that bar or inhibit people with offense records from accessing rehabilitative care, employment, and affordable housing.
The collateral consequences of a criminal conviction extend beyond the direct consequences issued by a sentencing court. These penalties and disadvantages are now well understood to contribute to stubborn recidivism rates. According to Department of Justice data, half of those released from state prisons returned within three years. Illinois’ recidivism rate mirrors the national trend, with 47 percent of individuals released from prison returning within that time frame.
Compounding the harms of collateral consequences are disproportionately high rates of substance use disorders among incarcerated individuals, and sparse treatment and recovery support within institutions and following incarceration. Research has identified problem substance use as a “criminogenic” need—a dynamic risk factor that can be changed—and it is increasingly recognized by reform efforts that seek to apply evidence-based approaches to reduce recidivism.
Reentry in Illinois
Faced with a prison population that increased by 650 percent since the 1970s and a system built to house 32,095 individuals with greater than ten thousand more than that currently behind bars, Illinois has undertaken efforts in recent years to reverse these trends.
In 2014, the Illinois state legislature convened a bi-cameral, bi-partisan Joint Criminal Justice Reform Committee to examine the current system, study the impact of current sentencing structure, and consider strategies for reform. In 2015, Governor Bruce Rauner issued Executive Order 15-14, creating the Illinois Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform Commission, and tasking it with a goal of mapping out strategies to decrease the state prison population by 25 percent within 10 years. TASC President Pam Rodriguez is an appointed member of the Commission.
In its work to date, the Commission has affirmed that appropriate substance use treatment not only helps address the health and social problems among those involved in the justice system, but also decreases crime and recidivism:
“Building community capacity to address the criminogenic needs of offenders, such as behavioral health services, job training, and access to social services, is critical to reducing the prison population safely and sustaining the reduction over time.”
- Initial Report of the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, July 2015
“Recommendation 12—Enhance rehabilitative programming in IDOC. Implement or expand evidence-based programming that targets criminogenic need, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy and substance abuse treatment. Prioritize access to programming to high-risk offenders. Evaluate those programs identified as promising and eliminate ineffective programs.”
- Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, Final Report: Part I, December 2015
Successful Reentry Models
Proven, evidence-based, and nationally recognized reentry models already exist in Illinois. The Sheridan and Southwestern prison drug treatment and reentry programs offer drug treatment services, both within the prison facility and in communities after release, and comprehensive reentry services, including TASC reentry case management and recovery support.
The programs have been rigorously evaluated. Individuals in the Sheridan prison reentry program have a 15 percent lower likelihood of return to prison within three years of release than comparable releasees who did not receive these services. Those successfully completing the program had even better recidivism outcomes, with a 44 percent lower likelihood of return to prison. The program operated at Southwestern Correctional Center has demonstrated comparable outcomes. A subsequent evaluation of the Sheridan program found that its recidivism benefits were still intact seven years after release.
Additionally, the programs were found to have generated combined annual savings of $5 million in reduced incarceration costs.
“There is substantial research on what works in reentry policies and practices,” says Rodriguez. “The more that our public systems, communities, and families understand and apply this knowledge, the more successful we can be together in reducing recidivism and restoring men and women to full citizenship in communities.”