The reentry process can and must be improved. With belt tightening at state and national levels, public officials must cut costs and find alternatives to long-term, mass incarceration. Reentry mentoring programs can reduce criminal activity and make our families and communities more healthy, productive and safe.
The Federal Government increased support for prisoner reentry programs through the 2008 Second Chance Act. There is broad agreement that improving prisoner reentry is one of our nation's main criminal justice challenges (Garland, Wodahl, & Mayfield, Criminal Justice Policy Review, 2011; Mears, Roman, Wolff, & Buck, Journal of Criminal Justice, 2006).
Decades ago during the 1970's, there was a basic shift in the approach to criminal justice from a focus on rehabilitation to an intentional emphasis on punishment. Robert Martinson's 1974 paper, "What Works? - Questions and Answers about Prison Reform," generated a “nothing works” attitude. James Q. Wilson’s 1975 book, Thinking About Crime, reinforced a “tough on crime” movement during and beyond the 1980’s and 1990’s. Detention and punishment became the principal strategies for public safety (R. Guy, Journal of Applied Social Science, 2011), with priorities on zero tolerance and mandatory minimum sentences.
Tough on crime strategies over the last thirty years have led to enormous increases in prison and jail populations throughout the United States, from 300,000 in 1980 to more than 2.3 million in 2013. Nearly 7 million Americans are currently under some form of active corrections supervision. It has become clear now that new approaches to criminal justice are needed.
The need for effective reentry programs has never been greater. Former inmates face significant challenges including limited job opportunities, restricted eligibility for subsidized housing, reduced access to other subsidies, the likelihood of terminated parental rights, and complicated routes to deal with addiction and mental health problems. Two-thirds of former inmates, nationally, violate the terms of their parole or commit another crime within three years of release (Langan & Levin, Federal Sentencing Reporter, 2002), at tremendous costs to taxpayers. State prison expenses across the United States are second only to Medicaid spending. Pervasive damages afflict the social fabric of families, local communities and overall public safety - in part due to ineffective reentry programs (L. Trimbur, Qualitative Sociology, 2009).
Traditional reentry programs have focused on reducing parole violations through surveillance and control, without addressing the causative dynamics that contribute to recidivism – issues embedded within a man’s social networks. When a former inmate is cut off from relationships that provide social support, he is more likely to return to prison.
Rather than a judgmental focus on questions of flawed character and bad personal choices, a mentoring approach to reentry identifies and strengthens the positive abilities and healthy potentials within the former inmate.
The Level Ground program offers support and successful outcomes, as the former inmate rebuilds his life.