Improve Reentry After Incarceration

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Introductory Paragraph

There is a need to improve reentry after incarceration, because individuals with mental and substance use disorders in the criminal justice system face many obstacles in reintegrating into society. These obstacles may include challenges with access to health care, job skills, education, housing instability, and a lack of connection within the community. All of this increases hardship with recovery and may facilitate a SUD relapse, putting them back into the criminal justice systems. [1] This article describes some of the steps that can be taken to help people move forward with successful recovery.

Key Information

People who are returning to society have a high risk of overdose fatality because their tolerance to opioids is lower than it was prior to incarceration. An estimated 10-15 percent of the total state and federal prison population, approximately 200,000 people, struggle with opioid dependence or abuse. [2] Of incarcerated adults and juveniles with mental disorders, 60 to 75 percent have co-occurring substance abuse difficulties. [3] More than 50 percent of graduates of many prison treatment programs relapse within 12 months. [4] Upon release from jail or prison, many people with mental or substance use disorders continue to lack access to services and, too often, become enmeshed in a cycle of costly justice system involvement. [5] The social and economic benefits of people remaining substance-free and crime-free after re-entry are well-documented. However, reentry from incarceration to communities requires collaboration between correctional institutions, human services agencies and communities to provide substance use and mental health services as well as to enhance education, employment and health care services. [6]

Relevant Research

This cost/benefit analysis by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that only 11% of all inmates with addiction received any treatment during their incarceration. It also found that "if all inmates who needed treatment and aftercare received such services, the nation would break even in a year if just over 10% remained substance-free, crime-free and employed. Thereafter, for each former inmate who remained substance-free, crime-free and employed, the nation would reap an economic benefit of $90,953 per year." [7]

The National Institute of Justice at the US Department of Justice performed a meta-analysis of rehabilitation programs to support guidelines for effective practice. [8]

The TJC Study is a report from the Urban Institute, John Jay College, and the National Institute of Corrections titled "Sustaining Systems Change: Findings from a Transition from Jail to Community Initiative Stakeholder Survey." The TJC Initiative sought to improve public safety and to enhance the success of individuals returning to the community from local jails through implementation of innovative, evidence-informed transition models in four key areas: [9]

  • collaborative structures
  • evidence-based targeted interventions
  • data and self-evaluation
  • sustainability mechanisms and capacity-building

Impactful Federal, State, and Local Policies

The Second Chance Act of 2008 authorizes a federal investment in strategies to reduce recidivism and increase public safety while reducing corrections costs for state and local governments.

BJA provides a grant program and technical assistance to state and local corrections agencies. [10] This brief provides an overview of assistance programs that support re-entry. [11]

SAMHSA has recently completed a grant cycle through its Offender Reentry Program that is worth monitoring for results and for possible additional grants. [12]

Available Tools and Resources

SAMHSA has published a guidebook titled, "Continuity of Offender Treatment for Substance Use Disorder from Institution to Community." This is one in SAMHSA's series of Treatment Improvement Protocols (TIPs) and provides guidance for substance use disorder treatment clinicians and case workers in assisting offenders in the transition from the criminal justice system to life after release. [13] SAMHSA also has a brief that outlines its various re-Entry resources. [14]

The National Institute of Justice has published a guidebook on the transitioning for Prison to Community (TPC) model titled "TPC Reentry Handbook: Implementing the NIC Transition from Prison to the Community Model." [15] It also hosts a website titled "Crime Solutions" that indexes evidence-based practices and programs that are directed to supporting reentry. [16]

Vocational Rehab (VR) Resources includes a webinar focused on VR for people with criminal backgrounds [17] and a website that provides a 50-State comparison on the use of criminal records in employment, licensing & housing. [18]

Second Chance Act Resources include a toolkit for local city, county, and community leaders to provide a foundation to improve reentry policy and practices [19] and a webinar on funding opportunities. [20]

What Works in Reentry Clearinghouse is a “one-stop shop” for research on the effectiveness of a wide variety of reentry programs and practices. [21]

Promising Practices

Rhode Island. the first state correctional system to initiate a comprehensive program to screen all individuals for opioid use disorder, to offer FDA–approved MAT to medically eligible incarcerated people, and to provide linkage to care in the community after release. In the first year of this program’s implementation, there was a 12% drop in statewide overdose deaths and a 61% drop in post-incarceration overdose deaths. [22]

Maryland. The Community Mediation Maryland Re-entry Mediation program is focused on building strong community relationships to support reentry of inmates into the community after they are released from prison. [23]

Washington. The Offender Reentry Community Safety Program is a reentry-planning and service program aimed at reducing recidivism for dangerously mentally ill offenders. [24]


  4. Inciardi, J. A., MartIn, S. S., & ButzIn, C. A. (2004). Five-Year Outcomes of Therapeutic Community Treatment of Drug-Involved Offenders after Release from Prison. Crime & Delinquency, 50(1), 88–107.
  5. The Revolving Door of American’s Prisons.(2011). State of Recidivism, Retrieved December 5, 2019, from