Through the Looking Glass: Taking Stock of Offender Reentry

Published date01 February 2018
Date01 February 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2018, Vol. 34(1) 69 –80
© The Author(s) 2018
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DOI: 10.1177/1043986217750443
Through the Looking Glass:
Taking Stock of Offender
Melinda D. Schlager1
Offender reentry has been part of the fabric of the criminal justice system since the
first prison opened its doors and people who went in the front door were, at some
point, released. Traditionally, the research on offender reentry has either supported
best practice by determining what specific individual-level programming “works” or
“doesn’t work” or it has assessed the success of programs in terms of their ability to
reduce recidivism. And while we may have moved the dial in the last 50 years with
respect to what we know about individual-level offender reentry attributes, there
is no effective overarching narrative to explain the offender reentry phenomenon.
Overwhelmingly, practitioners and academics in the criminal justice system operate
within a paradigm that assesses and evaluates everything using risk. Unfortunately, a
risk- or deficit-focused approach to viewing offender reentry severely limits our ability
to think differently about the problem. However, if we employ a paradigm for offender
reentry that focuses less on problems and more on strengths, different outcomes
are possible. Work done in social work that promotes “strengths-based, solution-
focused, capacity building, asset creating, motivation enhancing” empowerment
models that accentuate the positive serves as an exemplar for us to use in criminal
justice when discussing offender reentry. The three strengths-based principles adapted
to offender reentry and discussed here are as follows: Officer–offender relationships
that emphasize collaboration will promote law-abiding, prosocial behavior; offenders
who are empowered will be more likely to seek to change; and cooperation from the
community is key to successful offender reentry. Fiscal, political, and common sense
reasons for using a strengths-based approach to offender reentry are discussed.
offender reentry, what works, risk, strengths-based
1University of North Texas at Dallas, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Melinda D. Schlager, Professor, University of North Texas at Dallas, Dallas, TX 75241, USA.
750443CCJXXX10.1177/1043986217750443Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeSchlager

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