Myth or Reality?

There is not much that can be done to help an inmate improve his or her chances of success upon re-entering society.

More than half of all inmates return to prison soon after their release and some people believe that nothing can be done to help them succeed. Not true. The Boston Reentry Initiative (BRI) seems to do just that. The BRI is a partnership between the Sheriff’s Department, the Boston Police Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office that aims at providing an inter-agency support system for inmates both before and after their release from the House of Correction, the facility that houses incarcerated misdemeanants in the Boston area. The BRI team targets a group of younger male inmates (18 to 32) who are considered to be high risk for failure. In the first few months of incarceration, a BRI official meets with the client and discusses issues that may affect a successful transition back into the community.  Within 45 days of their initial booking into the House of Correction, selected inmates are given two messages: First, the law enforcement community is aware of the offenders’ past criminal activity and is prepared to act quickly and decisively should the offender resume those activities upon release. Second, there are significant resources – employment, housing, educational and other support services – available to aid their transition back into community life. Every inmate is assigned a mentor from a faith-based organization or community service provider who assists them in implementing the discharge plan they receive upon release.

They are enrolled in education, substance abuse, and other institutional programs that are customized to address their individual needs. The returning prisoners are encouraged to continue to work with their caseworkers, mentors, and social service providers during their reentry periods.

A recent evaluation of the BRI by Anthony Braga and his associates found that relative to a comparison group of inmates, BRI participants were found to have 30 percent lower rates of recidivism.   This program shows that if prison re-entry is to be dealt with in an effective manner, it will take the cooperation of a variety of treatment and law enforcement agencies working together in an integrated fashion with a common goal.

Writing Assignment: During a period of economic uncertainty, where a great many people are out of work, should hard to come by resources be spent on convicted criminals? What are the economic benefits of helping former criminals “go straight”?

Source: Anthony. Braga, Anne Piehl, and David Hureau, “Controlling Violent Offenders Released to the Community: An Evaluation of the Boston Reentry Initiative”
Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 46 (2009): 411-436