Untying the Knot of Incarceration

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Part 1 – Assisting Individuals and Communities through Reentry Services
This is the first in a two-part series on incarceration and its impact on communities.

12 million individuals are released from local jails each year.  In fact, in an average three-week period, local jails have contact with as many people as state and federal prisons do in an entire year.  Many of those who cycle through our local jails suffer from chronic mental illness, homelessness, substance abuse and addiction.  Four out of five of these jail inmates are incarcerated for less than a month.  During this time, they are unlikely receive assistance that will help ensure they do not end up back in jail in the near future.

Typically, ex-offenders return to impoverished and under-served neighborhoods without being linked to supportive services, but with a criminal record that guarantees it will be hard to find honest work.  Federal studies show as many as two-thirds of those released from prison are rearrested within three years.  This means the impact is not only on the individual, but also on the public safety and welfare of the communities to which they return. It’s a staggering problem—and opportunity for local leaders—that often goes unnoticed.

The Urban Institute has been at the cutting edge of working with local governments to halt the cycle of incarceration, release, and re-arrest.  To this end, the Urban Institute announced it is partnering with the National Institute for Corrections to provide training and technical assistance to six communities struggling with the revolving door between local jails and communities (the application can be found here).  This assistance follows a Transition from Jail To Community (TJC) model that helps local officials build partnerships for interventions in the lives of those who end up in jail.  The results make a difference not just in the lives of the individuals, but also in the vibrancy of communities.

Last year, the Urban Institute released its Elected Official’s Toolkit for Jail Reentry.  The National League of Cities endorsed this toolkit as a means to help local leaders break down silos among service providers and build collaborative efforts that help reintegrate former offenders into communities.  These efforts ultimately increase public safety, maximize the efficiency of resources, and improve individual outcomes.

Application submissions to receive technical assistance and guidance from the Urban Institute are due June 30, 2012.  The application provides background on the project and sets forth the requirements for jurisdictions to be considered for selection as one of the new TJC jurisdictions.  The Urban Institute will also be hosting a webinar for prospective applicants on June 7, at 2 pm EDT.  Details on joining the webinar are also available in the application and at the TJC website.

Local leadership can play a vital role in breaking this cycle by bringing diverse stakeholders together to commit to a common mission and vision. While only six communities will ultimately be able to take advantage of Urban Institute’s direct technical assistance, every community can utilize the Jail-To-Community Toolkit.  Local elected officials have the standing to build, maintain and sustain collaboration between criminal justice, community service providers and faith-based organizations that can and do work with the jail population before, during and after incarceration.  Ultimately, these steps improve the community, individual outcomes, and save taxpayer money.

Part two of this series will focus on federal policy efforts and grants that attempt to reduce the impact of incarceration on our society and individuals.

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