Major Study Examines Prisoners and Their Reentry Needs

by Christy A. Visher, Ph.D., and Pamela K. Lattimore, Ph.D.

About the Authors
Dr. Visher is a principal research associate at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center. Dr. Lattimore is a principal scientist at RTI International’s Center for Crime, Violence, and Justice Research.

Key demographics were recently released from a study of reentry programs under the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI)—a Federal effort to help States use their correctional resources to reduce recidivism.[1] Aimed at increasing public safety, SVORI is an unprecedented national response to the criminal justice, employment, education, health, and housing challenges that adult and juvenile offenders face when they return to the community.

RTI International, a nonprofit research group, and the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social policy research organization, are conducting a 5-year evaluation of the effectiveness of the SVORI programs. In the National Institute of Justice-funded evaluation, researchers interviewed prisoners at 16 sites, asking them shortly before they were released what services they felt they would need. Here is a summary of the demographics and responses of the SVORI group (a sample of 935 men who received SVORI services) and the comparison group (923 men who did not receive SVORI services).[2]

Who Are the SVORI Men?

More than half of the men in the SVORI group are African American, and nearly one-third are Caucasian.[3] The majority of the SVORI group are neither married nor in a steady relationship. The average age of the men is 29. Sixty percent are fathers of minor children, and nearly half of them reported having primary care responsibilities.

Nine out of 10 men in the SVORI group reported having a job at some point in their lifetime, and nearly two-thirds said they were employed during the 6 months before their incarceration. They typically held blue-collar jobs, serving as laborers, service workers, equipment operators, and skilled craftspeople.

Nearly half reported that they had supported themselves in part through illegal activities, and more than two-thirds reported perpetrating violence during the 6 months before they were incarcerated. Eighty-three percent served prior prison terms. The majority of the group reported having family members and friends who had been convicted of a crime or had problems with drugs and alcohol.

The SVORI Men Define Their Needs

Part of the evaluation of the SVORI programs is based on prisoners’ responses to questions about the services they need after they are released from prison. The most commonly reported reentry needs were more education, general financial assistance, a driver’s license, job training, and employment.

Nearly three-quarters of the SVORI group reported needing transportation assistance and better money-management skills. More than half said they needed some of the most basic and immediate needs—food, clothing, and a place to live—along with basic identification (birth certificate, Social Security card, and photo ID card) and financial assistance. Those who had minor children also reported a need for parenting classes and child care, help with child support payments, and help resolving custody issues.

When asked what health services they needed upon release, three-quarters identified health care insurance and more than half identified medical treatment. It is important to keep in mind that many reported needs are intertwined. For example, when a former prisoner applies for medical insurance or treatment, he is also likely to need identification and possibly transportation.

The majority of the SVORI group seemed to recognize some aspect of their own behavior that they need to change to improve their lives after they are released. Almost two-thirds reported needing to work on their personal relationships, and more than half said they needed a mentor and spiritual or religious assistance. One-third reported needing anger management training.

Over the next 2 years, additional findings will be released. These will be based on interviews with the SVORI group and the comparison group at 3 months, 9 months, and 15 months postrelease. The interviews will include drug testing at the 3- and 15-month marks, which will offer critical data not only on postrelease drug use, but also on the consistency of self-reported information. Additional analyses will examine recidivism and other outcomes at 12 and 24 months postrelease.

NCJ 219609

Charts

SVORI GROUP DEMOGRAPHIC HIGHLIGHTS

  • Average age 29 years
  • 56% African American
  • 32% Caucasian
  • 4% Hispanic
  • 83% served prior prison terms
  • 52% had been incarcerated in juvenile correctional facility
  • 62% completed high school or GED
  • 60% with children under age 18
  • Of those with minor children, 49% have primary care responsibilities of children
  • 37% in a steady intimate relationship
  • 8% married
What education and employment experience do they have?
Education/Employment Experience% of Respondents
Ever held a job89
Held a job during 6 months pre-prison64
High school graduate or GED62
Expect to return to a previous job56
Never held a job for more than 1 year42
How did they support themselves pre-prison?
Method of Support% of Respondents
Partly through illegal activities45
Mostly through illegal activities39
Help from family32
Help from friends18
What experience have they had with violence?
Experience With Violence% of Respondents
Perpetrated violence during 6 months pre-prison69
Victim of violence during 6 months pre-prison59
Victim of violence during incarceration56
What experience have their friends and family had with criminal behavior?
Friends/Family Criminal Behavior% of Respondents
Friends have been convicted of a crime or incarcerated84
Friends have drug or alcohol problems82
Family members have been convicted of a crime or incarcerated78
Family members have problems with drugs or alcohol72

MOST REQUESTED REENTRY NEEDS

  
  • 94% More education
  • 86% General financial assistance
  • 83% Driver’s license
  • 82% Job training
  • 80% Employment
What health services do they need?
Health Service% of Respondents
Health care insurance76
Medical treatment57
Alcohol or substance abuse treatment38
Mental health treatment23
What family services do those with minor children need?
Family Service% of Respondents With Minor Children
Parenting classes61
Help with child support payments45
Child care40
Help resolving child custody issues36
What other services do they need?
Service% of Respondents
Transportation assistance73
Money-management skills71
Access to food or clothing banks62
Identification (e.g., birth certificate)56
Financial assistance from government53
A place to live52
46
What attitude and behavior help do they need?
Attitude/Behavior Support% of Respondents
Change attitude about criminal behavior65
Improve personal relationships64
Mentoring60
Spiritual or religious assistance52
Anger management36

Sidebar

WHAT DO THE SVORI PROGRAMS OFFER?

SVORI funding supports a three-phase service continuum that focuses on reentry preparation: (1) just prior to release from prison, (2) during the first few months postrelease, and (3) for several years postrelease as participants take on more productive and independent roles in the community. There are 89 adult and juvenile SVORI programs, which offer such services as life-skills training, dental and medical services, needs and risk assessments, treatment and release plans, and job placement.

The following charts, based on a survey of SVORI program directors in 2005, show the percentage of adult SVORI participants that received particular types of services in prison (prerelease) and after they were released.

Figure: This bar chart, “Adult SVORI Participants Receiving Prerelease Services,” shows the percentage of adult SVORI participants receiving particular services prior to release: 78 percent receive life-skills training; 82 percent dental services; 86 percent medical services; 94 percent needs assessment; 94 percent risk assessment; and 95 percent treatment/release plan. 

Figure: This bar chart, “Adult SVORI Participants Receiving Postrelease Services,” shows the percentage of adult SVORI participants receiving particular services after release: 65 percent receive services on résumé and interviewing skills; 71 percent job referrals/placement; 82 percent risk assessment; 84 percent needs assessment; 90 percent supervision; and 92 percent treatment/release plan. 

Notes

[1]SVORI is funded by the U.S. Departments of Justice, Labor, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services.

[2]The evaluation also includes interviews with adult female prisoners and juvenile males. This article, however, discusses only the adult males in this study.

[3]Although this article presents statistics for the SVORI group only, responses from the comparison group were similar in terms of demographics and types of services needed.