The Urban Institute Reentry Roundtable Discussion Paper:
Crime, Work, and Reentry
restrict placement options for offenders with particular histories; institutional demands on
movement rule out times and locations for programming; unsystematic management of inmates
can make it difficult to identify appropriate participants; competing goals across law enforcement
agencies make continuity difficult at best; etc. As noted in Piehl et al. (2003), "If these realities
are not addressed, all of the political capital, taxpayer and foundation resources, and hard work
of practitioners will be spent at cross-purposes." Recent discussion about prisoner reentry has
emphasized the need for ideas and for resources, but if implementation concerns are not
addressed, the results of these efforts will never reach a large proportion of the inmates leaving
prison (not to mention jail) each year.
In Suffolk County, these various forces together meant that a new reentry effort, though
fully funded and staffed, had empty program slots even though it was serving only a small
fraction of the inmates released each month (on the order of five percent). Analysis of the
reasons for the inability to fill program slots identified reasons such as unpredictable release
dates, legislative and departmental classification policies regarding inmate security status that
made them ineligible for placement, and simple failure to place eligible inmates into available
options (Watson 2002). The foregone opportunities are tragic, especially in light of the
promising early outcomes in terms of recidivism for those who participated in this modest
initiative. Difficulty in serving a large cross-section of a reentry cohort is not unique to this
setting. An ambitious Texas reentry initiative, the InnerChange Freedom program, also struggled
to fill program slots. Over a two-year period, fewer than 200 participants entered the program,
again though it was well funded (Eisenberg and Trusty 2002). The Maryland Re-Entry
Partnership Initiative served three percent of those inmates returning to Baltimore in 2001, about
one quarter of its goal, though the precise reasons for the gap were not specified (La Vigne et al.
The difficulty in filling program slots is noteworthy for three reasons. Obviously, there is a
lost opportunity to serve inmates that cannot be recaptured. Second, it points out the importance
of implementation issues in addressing inmate reentry. And finally, it provides a challenge for
evaluation that is so needed in this arena. Practitioners willing to conduct randomized studies are
generally unwilling to set aside a control group if it means that program slots go unfilled.
Therefore, research quality suffers, too.