Research Finds Prisoner Re-entry Programs Essential, but in Need of Greater Cooperation

New research finds that prisoner re-entry programs are integral to a successful return to society, but they can be exceedingly difficult to navigate, especially for those who need the services most. However, it also finds that long-term partnerships and coordination between re-entry service providers can help make the process more efficient and less confusing.

“People overcome a lot of obstacles coming back into society, facing everything from concrete issues, like finding housing and employment, to living with the stigma of being labeled as an ex-convict,” said Johnny Nhan, lead author of the paper and associate professor of criminal justice at Texas Christian University. “But the correctional system is oriented more toward punishment than helping people re-enter society. That’s what makes these re-entry services so important in avoiding recidivism.”

The research looks at prisoner re-entry programs in North Texas using data from Texas ReEntry Services and found that political friction and a lack of coordination between organizations presented challenges to former inmates seeking services. For example, different programs have different rules and timeframes, and since they do not often coordinate with one another, former inmates have to try to navigate the different services on their own.

“TXRS surveyed ex-offenders, and we found that many of the barriers they identified could have benefited from the resources offered by other re-entry programs in the county,” says Nhan, “but most hadn’t taken advantage of them.”

Job preparedness, for example, was a key barrier to re-entry, yet only a small percentage of the former inmates surveyed sought employment re-entry services separate from services offered by TXRS. Transportation, too, was a barrier for many former inmates, and it is one of the least frequently provided services.

“We know that there are a lot of factors that influence recidivism, and even though these organizations are meant to address them, they can be too difficult to navigate and use successfully,” says Nhan. “We hope that by highlighting some of the challenges in North Texas, organizations across the country can work to collaborate with one another and provide these ex-offenders their best second chance.”

The paper, “The reentry labyrinth: The anatomy of a reentry services network,” was published in The Journal of Offender Rehabilitation and was co-authored by Kendra Bowen, assistant professor of criminal justice, and Katherine Polzer, associate professor of criminal justice, both at TCU.