Young people leaving juvenile justice residential placement face many concerns as they reenter the community, home, and school/work force. Reentry refers to those activities and tasks that prepare youth placed out-of-home for reentry into their families and communities.1
Unfortunately, many youth return to unstable home settings, struggle to remain in school, and lack the skills needed for employment upon leaving secure care placement. Further, the majority of youth involved in the juvenile justice system have a mental health disorder, and support services in their home communities are hard to arrange until they are formally released. This can cause a gap in services that negatively impacts the reentry process.
To improve the odds of success for youth reentering the community, the justice system, related agencies, and communities must plan for what needs to occur for reentry when youth enter the juvenile justice system: “think exit at entry.” Therefore coordination and collaboration between agencies and across services and supports are necessary at multiple phases of reentry.2 The four main phases are the following:
- The entry phase: The moment the youth enters residential placement
- The placement phase: The time the youth is in the secure care facility
- The transitional phase: The actual act of leaving the facility and reentering the community, which is immediately before and immediately after the date of exit
- The community-based aftercare phase: Usually the 120-day (or longer) period of time after a youth returns to the community
Successful reentry programs and practices should ensure the delivery of prescribed services and supervision in the community. Specifically, “by fostering improved family relationships and functioning, reintegration into school, and mastery of independent life skills, youth build resiliency and positive development to divert them from delinquent and other problematic behaviors.3
There are many factors that should be considered when planning for reentry. The literature confirms that successful reentry plans, services, and supports should address at least these five issues:
- Family: What services and supports are needed to ensure family and home stability, skill development, and healing of damaged relationships?
- Substance abuse: What are the services and supports that promote a reduction or cessation of substance use and/or abuse?
- Peer association/friends: What services and supports need to be in place to promote positive use of leisure time, prevent gang involvement, and discourage association with peers engaged in delinquent activities? Learn more about positive youth development.
- School conflict and achievement: What services are in place to promote the transference of educational records and placement in the appropriate school settings that will support educational success and achievement?
- Mental, behavioral, and physical health: What services and supports are in place to address mental health, social/behavioral concerns, and/or chronic health problems?
Mentors, Education, and Employment Opportunities
Research has demonstrated that reentry services and aftercare programs which connect youth with professional case managers, mentors, and education and/or employment opportunities can reduce recidivism.4 Youth in residential settings should be provided with high quality, appropriate education programming that parallels that of mainstream public schools and holds youth to the same academic standards. In this way, youth eligible to return to school after release will be better prepared to persist and succeed in the community setting.5
Additionally, research consistently shows that individuals who have jobs are less likely to engage in crime; however, youth exiting secure care and seeking employment often encounter obstacles.6 To help youth develop the skills necessary for successful employment, juvenile justice facilities should offer high-quality vocational training and other employment supports including providing information about how to interview and behave appropriately in the workplace. Learn more about youth employment.
Mental and Behavioral Health Supports
Finally, regardless of where youth return upon exit from secure care, they will need the skills to properly control their emotions and behaviors in community settings. This requires that juvenile justice facilities address any mental/behavioral health needs youth may have, and connect them with community-based treatment and support services upon exit.
Another key consideration for reentry planning is the environment to which a youth will return. The extent to which a youth’s neighborhood generally accepts criminal behavior and drug use—or “special contagion”7—must be reviewed. When necessary, alternative supports and activities must be put in place to lower the risk of the youth re-engaging in delinquent/criminal behavior. Because it is not possible to move all families from poor communities that condone criminal activity, reentry activities should include building skills in both avoiding criminal involvement and engaging in positive community capacity building.8
1 Bilchik & Altschuler, 2010
2 Brock, O’Cummings, & Milligan, 2008
3 Nellis & Wayman, 2009, p. 5
4 Nellis & Wayman, 2009
5 Brock, et. al, 2008
6 The Sentencing Project, 2010
7 Grunwald, Lockwood, Harris, & Mennis, 2010
8 Grunwald, et al., 2010