Engaging communities: an essential ingredient to Offender Reentry.

Author:Wilkinson, Reginald A.
Position::CT FEATURE

Although it is a widely acknowledged variable to the success of offender reentry, the development, maintenance and influence of community providers in the reentry process has become more paramount as releases from confinement continue to increase at record levels. In less than a decade alone, communities nationally have witnessed a double-digit percentage increase in the number of adults on parole from 1995 through 2003, (1) with nearly two-thirds of all offenders returning to prison within three years of their release. (2) Therefore, it is an obvious conclusion that more innovative strategies must be undertaken to engage community providers in an effort to establish both a conceptual and operational foundation for offender success.

Given the increasing number of offenders currently being supervised in the community, compounded with stagnant or declining budgets equating to fewer personnel, correctional leaders are being placed in the precarious situation of being almost dependent upon outside providers to jointly take ownership of the reentry process. This is not to say that the linkage between corrections and the community is something new to the field. On the contrary, the use of community providers such as churches, businesses and social service agencies has essentially been imbedded in the corrections profession. Yet, the field still has a long road to travel in order to change the ideology of communities into taking a more significant role in the processes involved with re-integrating offenders back into society.

In effect, the burden can no longer be exclusively placed upon corrections to ensure that formerly incarcerated individuals become productive citizens. Correctional agencies should not be the only entity tackling this problem. For reentry to be a success, communities must become engaged and empowered to work collaboratively with corrections to provide guidance and direct assistance to released offenders. Correctional entities should also, however, maintain a primary role in working with each community to facilitate change and to provide technical assistance when necessary. Similarly, corrections professionals must recognize that each community is unique and may expect ideas toward successful offender reentry to reflect that communities priorities and values. The adage of "one glove fits all" simply will not work across diverse communities.

Dispersing Responsibility

Neither corrections nor communities can view reentry as being the sole responsibility of the other. From a historical perspective, communities by and large have ostensibly been comforted in the knowledge that the post-release supervision of offenders would act as a "safety net" for both the offender and themselves. For it was this point during an offender's supervision that determined whether successful re-integration was occurring. However, significant increases in the number of released offenders coupled with limited resources have clearly weakened what was, and still is considered to be a vital link to offender rehabilitation. With more offenders also being released without any...

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