Plan aims to reduce prisoner recidivism

A re-entry program helps inmates find jobs after release and be more accountable.
Monday, November 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:40 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

When inmates are released from prison, they often face hurdles that prevent them from leading crime-free lives. Problems with substance abuse, mental health and job placement increase the likelihood that former inmates will return to prison.

A state initiative, called the Missouri Re-entry Process aims to decrease criminal recidivism by addressing such hurdles.

The process establishes individual treatment plans for inmates, such as drug treatment and vocational training. Strategic plans developed for each inmate will be available to other state agencies that will work with the inmates during and after incarceration.

Missouri has long offered resources to help people with mental health, employment, drug and family problems, but until recently, they had been largely separate from the corrections process.

“We realized the challenges that offenders face when they re-enter the community caused them to seek other people for help,” said John Fougere, public information officer for the state Department of Corrections.

The re-entry program began in 2002 as a collaboration between the Corrections Department and five other state agencies — the departments of health and senior services, social services, economic development, mental health and the State Court Administrator’s Office. Missouri was one of the first two states to develop such alliances based on a model created by the National Institute of Corrections.

“A big issue is being able to find a good job,” Fougere said. “That’s where the Department of Economic Development has a part they can play in this.”

The most recent product of the alliance has been the Transitional Accountability Plan, which outlines each prisoner’s rehabilitation needs and goals. The state has case-management teams at five facilities across the state.

When an offender enters prison, these institutional case-management teams evaluate the inmate to determine what the inmate needs to accomplish to prepare for a successful release.

“It’s like the offender’s game plan,” Fougere said.

Establishing these expectations early allows the corrections staff to hold prisoners accountable for their actions while incarcerated. Throughout an inmate’s sentence, he or she is expected to participate in any needed treatment programs and services.

Before releasing a prisoner to probation officers, the agencies involved with the re-entry program begin assessing the inmate’s specific needs. The agencies might provide more preparation for finding a job, offer therapy to reduce family conflicts or determine long-term treatment solutions for mental health and drug-abuse problems.

Three to four months before release, the prisoner will be transferred to a transitional housing unit. During that stay, the offender will have work assignments to fulfill through pre-approved activities. The state recently opened its first five units.

The accountability plan also ensures that an offender’s needs are recognized and treated during parole. Even after the parole period, the offender is still under the watchful eye of the accountability plan. The other agencies in the re-entry process help the former inmate remain stable at home, employed and sober.

“There’s a lot of national data out there,” said Tom Clements, chairman of the Missouri Re-entry Process steering committee. “But we thought it was very important to understand the population in Missouri. We spent a number of months developing Missouri’s baseline data so that we could identify the factors that contribute to successful re-entry or impede it in our state.”

After examining the data, the group came up with 84 possible ways to decrease criminal recidivism in the state. They began with the 35 ideas that would not require additional resources.

Because the initiative is relatively new, few prisoners who have received its services have been released from prison yet. As a result, it is difficult to measure how effective the alliance will be. But Kermit Humphries, a correctional program specialist for the National Institute of Corrections, said he is delighted by the progress so far.

“This is a framework that shows a state can do a better job managing the population when there is cooperation between the different agencies,” Humphries said.

Clements is also confident in the eventual success of the program.

“My career in corrections has spanned 25 years, and this is one of the most effective initiatives I have seen,” he said.

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