A New Model of Reentry to Reduce Mass Incarceration in the United States
Over 2 million people are behind bars in the US today – an incarceration rate that is five times its historical level and at least seven times that of other advanced democracies. This trend is not only expensive, but also largely ineffective in improving public safety or promoting rehabilitation. Reentry is a particularly problematic component of the criminal justice system; the abrupt transition makes unreasonable psychological and social demands on people leaving prison. The challenge shows itself through extraordinarily high mortality rates and recidivism statistics in the weeks and months following release. Halfway houses, pre-release centers, and work-release programs have all attempted to address this reentry challenge, but can make only a modest contribution due to the budgetary, land-use, and political barriers associated with expanding brick-and-mortar reentry facilities.
The Graduated Reintegration model will build a reentry facility without the facility. Graduated Reintegration will implement an innovative and scalable alternative to incarceration by placing prisoners in scattered site apartments before what otherwise would be their release dates to offer a gradual and incremental pathway to reentry. Resources previously spent on incarceration will be reallocated to provide housing and support services in the community. In a controlled, humane, and rehabilitative environment, case officers will possess the monitoring capacity and adjudication speed required for swift, certain, and fair supervision – a model that has proven enormously effective for parolees and probationers – and freedoms will be gradually introduced as an incentive for sustained compliance and specific accomplishments. Graduated Reintegration will enable residents to successfully transition through “baby steps” from a prisoner to a free person with a job, apartment, savings, and an experience of success in playing by the rules.
The need for criminal justice reform has been recognized as an urgent national priority by a diverse array of voices across the political spectrum. Today represents a unique opportunity to tap this political will in order to test new models like never before. If the Graduated Reintegration pilot proves successful in one jurisdiction, others around the country will follow and, eventually, this could be a new model for administering justice at a lower cost, lower risk to public safety, and with greater rehabilitative potential.
Since the original UP award, the Graduated Reintegration team, based out of the Litmus Program at NYU's Marron Institute, secured significant additional funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to expand the reentry pilot to another location and conduct a rigorous evaluation of the work. They also brought on several key team members that have direct experience working with the Department of Corrections in Washington State to successfully introduce criminal justice reforms. The project has had outsized policy impact in terms of making public housing units available for those formerly incarcerated (prior to the pilot they were ineligible) and the Illinois Department of Corrections has created reintegration units in every facility in the state modeled on the Graduated Reintegration pilot. Elements of the model have also been adopted by other states including New Jersey.
UP provided follow on funding to the NYU Marron Institute's Graduated Reintegration team as part of our COVID-19 response; see here.