Reentry Supports and Recidivism
Services during incarceration play an important role in successfully preparing and supporting incarcerated parents through reentry, as they provide the parent with necessary coping tools to reenter their communities and the everyday stressors associated with reentry. However, after the first full four-year term of Second Chances implementation, staff emphasize one important lesson they have learned since the program’s launch in 2019: post-release resources and supports are also a crucial component to making reentry a smoother transition and lowering recidivism rates.
Researchers have found a correlation between participation in reentry programs during incarceration, longer time to arrest, and fewer arrests after release.12 Specifically, reentry services in the form of free housing result in significantly lower rearrest rates for recipients than rearrest rates of individuals who do not receive free housing assistance. This is particularly true when the free housing is located away from the previously incarcerated individual’s pre-arrest neighborhood.13
Second Chances staff note that, in hindsight, they wish they had built post-release (reentry) supports for participants into the program during the grant application process. Particularly, they expressed their desire to offer substantive reentry housing assistance, rather than the limited referrals to temporary housing resources that they currently provide to program graduates. The organizations listed in the resource directory that staff provide to participants upon release primarily offer short-term (typically less than 30 days) housing solutions. Such assistance prevents previously incarcerated parents who are reentering their communities from experiencing homelessness, but they are not a permanent or stable solution. Although longer-lasting transitional housing and additional services are occasionally available, Second Chances staff are rarely able to offer or refer participants to these more permanent housing solutions due to high demand and a limited number of organizations offering such housing. They note that early partnership with a community organization delivering these services would have improved their impact on participants after leaving the facility.
Benefits of Incentivizing Custodial Parents’ Participation
Second Chances also discovered the value that custodial parents’ regular attendance plays in the success of the program. Ensuring that the custodial parents come back to attend each session of their parenting class, however, has its challenges. Approximately 60 to 70 percent of custodial parents participated in the entirety of the parenting course. While this is a relatively strong participation rate, continuous improvement is top of mind for Second Chances’ staff. Program staff believe some of the challenges to maintaining class attendance could have been assuaged by providing intentional incentives for participation.
Custodial parents in the program bear the load of full-time single parenting due to their co-parent’s incarceration, in addition to balancing their employment responsibilities, financial demands, and other daily commitments. Access to free diapers, wipes, formula, car seats, and other necessities would therefore ease the financial strain many of them face due to their circumstances. Program staff explained their regret at not building the necessary funding into their initial grant proposal to offer parents a complimentary car seat or an equivalent gift for the child at the halfway point of completion, as both a practical gift to the family and an incentive for the parent to regularly attend classes. Beyond the benefit that providing these goods to custodial parents would have for program attendance, Second Chances staff expressed their desire to genuinely support their participants’ families and children through acts of service like this.
Expanding Populations Served
In its first four years of existence, Second Chances served incarcerated fathers who had received their jail sentence. As the program looks toward its next few years and seeks opportunities to improve their services, expanding the population of eligible participants is a top priority. The program will soon serve incarcerated mothers and individuals who are in custody but have not yet been sentenced, in addition to the existing participant pool of sentenced incarcerated fathers.
All of Norfolk Sherriff’s Office’s programs for incarcerated individuals currently serve exclusively individuals who have been sentenced. This means that existing Second Chances participants have access to a range of services and programs throughout their time in the facility. As a result, a number of participants in past cohorts exited the program prior to completion because they were accepted into other programs that better suited their unique needs. To the contrary, the jail’s pre-sentence population has not been qualified to participate in any of the jail’s existing programs. These individuals therefore live in the correctional facility for upwards of six to eight months without access to the services offered by Second Chances, and the program intends to expand the pool of eligibility to address the needs of this unique population and the children they have at home.
12 Visher, C. A., Lattimore, P. K., Barrick, K., & Tueller, S. (2017). Evaluating the long-term effects of prisoner reentry services on recidivism: What types of services matter? Justice Quarterly, 34(1), 136-165. doi:10.1080/07418825.2015.1115539
13 Kirk, D. S., Barnes, G. C., Hyatt, J. M., & Kearly, B. W. (2018). The impact of residential change and housing stability on recidivism: Pilot results from the Maryland Opportunities through Vouchers Experiment (MOVE). Journal of Experimental Criminology, 14, 213–226. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-017-9317-z