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Prisoner reentry programmes do not work as they should

For a successful return to society, incarcerated individuals must work on their reentry during their sentence. But in practice, not all such individuals receive good reentry support. This is according to a report by Leiden criminologists commissioned by the Research and Data Centre (WODC).

The report Van Bajes naar Buiten, which was published on 20 June, focuses on incarcerated individuals’ experiences of the period after their release. Researchers Jennifer Doekhie, Rosa Koenraadt and Anouk den Besten followed 100 individuals during and after their prison sentences.

Reentry programmes might include proper support and training on work and income, debt prevention or finding housing. They could also include behavioural interventions in which detainees learn to deal with difficult situations and manage anger.

Reoffending rate

Rosa Koenraadt explains why it is paramount to start as soon as possible to work on people’s reentry into society, ‘The reoffending rate is high after a prison sentence: within two years of release, nearly half of all ex-detainees come in contact with the judiciary and almost 27% end up in detention again.’ To reduce this recidivism rate, the Dutch Custodial Institutions Agency, the probation service (3RO) and the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) work together closely to implement reentry policies. 

Limited access to reentry programmes

According to these policies, incarcerated people must work on their reentry into society from the start of their prison sentence. But according to the study’s respondents, there are little or no reentry options for prisoners serving less than three months, when this group faces multiple issues such as substance abuse and housing, financial and mental health problems.

‘Formerly incarcerated individuals feel they receive little emotional support and preparation for life outside’

Participation depends on good behaviour

Only a third of all incarcerated individuals in the Netherlands spend more than three months in prison. More support and training is available for this group but their participation in this depends on good behaviour. This works for self-motivated people but some incarcerated individuals do not behave in an unacceptable way, often because of their complex issues. This means, say the researchers, that in this system those who need support most have little or no access to reentry activities.

No housing or income

It is crucial that at least five basic conditions are met when people are released: an ID card, housing, income, debt management and healthcare. But these conditions were not met for many of the individuals in the study. Over half of the study participants had no income from employment or benefits on leaving prison. And almost a quarter did not have housing upon their release. Sometimes they do formally have housing, albeit temporary, in the form of assisted living facilities, friends or family. But these are not lasting solutions and this uncertainty can increase the risk of recidivism.

What is more, formerly incarcerated individuals frequently experience problems obtaining a Certificate of Good Conduct (VOG), which means they are prevented for some time from working or volunteering. They find that this really hinders their reentry process, says Jennifer Doekhie.

Mistrust of dual role of reentry professionals

Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals generally have little trust in the relevant agencies and reentry professionals. They do not understand the dual role of these professionals. Prison case managers provide support, for example, but they are also the ones to advise about demotion after unacceptable behaviour. The same is true for probation workers who support ex-offenders and also advise agencies about whether their clients should spend the probation period of their sentence in detention.

Lack of time and help from reentry professionals

Half of the research group felt there was a lack of help from reentry professionals. They often did not know which agencies to contact or even when they would be released. Professionals also have difficulty navigating the complex systems and rules, making the exchange of information anything but smooth. ‘Formerly incarcerated individuals feel they receive little emotional support and preparation for life outside’, says Anouk den Besten.

Recommendations for policy and practice

The researchers have three recommendations on how to make reentry policies more effective. ‘Reentry options should be open to all, regardless of whether their behaviour is acceptable’, says Koenraadt. ‘It is also important that people serving short sentences get to work on their reentry.’

Doekhie points to the role of professionals. ‘Professionals need to be clearer about their roles and responsibilities’, she says. ‘And better training is needed for reentry professionals so they can provide more satisfactory support for the diverse prison population.’ 

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