Program overview

  • Reducing recidivism among the formerly incarcerated: The Prisoner Release Initiative (PRI) is a reentry program that provides incarcerated individuals with support services both prior to and after their release from prison. PRI, which combines enhanced employment opportunities with wrap-around services before and after release, has been shown to increase employment and reduce the likelihood of re-arrest one year after release.

  • Selecting program participants: The PRI typically partners with Departments of Corrections and local law enforcement agencies. Together, these organizations select individuals who are scheduled for release with at least 6 months of community supervision and who have a history of violence or gang involvement (with sex offenders being excluded).

  • Preparing participants for release: The PRI provides services to support individuals in preparing for their release from prison. Six months before release, prisoners began regularly meeting with a social worker to assess each individual’s needs and risks (e.g., child support obligations, missing personal documentation). Program participants also begin receiving cognitive behavioral therapy. Thirty days before release, a care coordination team ensures each participant has suitable plans in place for housing, transportation, their job search, and other issues.

  • Supporting enrollees after release: After release, the coordinated care team continues to meet with participants each month. Participants have access to a range of support services, including substance use treatment, subsidized employment, and vouchers for workforce training and educational programs, among other services.

A single study with a rigorous design provides some evidence for the Prisoner Release Initiative as a strategy for supporting successful prisoner reentry.

  • 2011 randomized controlled trial found participants in PRI were 37% more likely to be employed and 14% less likely to be re-arrested within a year of release, when compared to the control group.
  • Proactively recruit participants: As part of an evaluation of the PRI, members of the control group were eligible to receive multiple support services, but accessed them at much lower rates than participants who had been assigned to receive these services. As such, reentry programs should actively recruit incarcerated individuals, in order to address information disparities and other factors that may reduce the likelihood of an individual accessing services on a sustained basis.

  • Ensure supports are tailored to each individual: A report from the National Reentry Resource Center emphasizes that each individual will need different services to successfully navigate their reentry journey. Therefore, it is advisable to conduct a needs assessment to determine the physical, psychological, social, and economic needs of each program participant. This assessment can guide the development of a reentry plan.

  • Assess local needs versus resources: The PRI model, as described here, includes a wide range of services, which makes the program costly to operate. For communities facing resource constraints, targeting the program toward a specific subpopulation, like those assessed at highest risk of recidivism, may be most appropriate. Alternatively, replicating organizations may consider developing and assessing the effectiveness of a pared down model with only the program elements most relevant to the local population.

  • Provide comprehensive job supports: While a job coach can support vocational discernment and the acquisition of career-relevant skills, many formerly incarcerated individuals require additional supports to find employment. An evaluation of PRI found that providing subsidies to employers who hired parolees significantly increased employment opportunities for individuals who had recently been released from prison.

  • Prepare for high-intensity support immediately following release: The weeks immediately after release can be challenging for formerly incarcerated individuals, so it is advisable to provide resources and check-ins at a higher frequency in those initial weeks. This can ensure that program participants have access to key building blocks for post-release success, such as access to housing, healthcare, and food.

  • Measure more than just recidivism: A report from the US Department of Justice explains that “rearrest is considered the most common and observable measure of recidivism across the justice system, yet it is a relatively poor indicator of how an individual is faring in their post-release experience.” Other outcomes to consider when evaluating a reentry program include: mental and physical health, the establishment of healthy relationships, community engagement, and prosocial behavior.