Every year in the United States, over 600,000 people are released from prison, and many millions more cycle in and out of our jails. While the average length of a prison sentence in the United States has continued to rise, it is still true that 95% of incarcerated Americans will eventually return home. The success of our formerly incarcerated neighbors and the health and well-being of their families and communities depends on the effectiveness of the reentry process.
Reentry refers to “re-entering” the community after a period of incarceration, and we often think of it in the context of reentry planning: making sure an incarcerated person has their vital documents in order, a place to live, access to public benefits and health care. Certainly, good reentry planning that is coordinated with community-based organizations is an integral part of corrections.
But no amount of planning can address the systemic inequities that impact the communities that incarcerated individuals are returning to. When there is limited access to affordable housing, meaningful career pathways, reliable transportation, and high-quality health care services—and add on to that the collateral consequences of a criminal record—we cannot keep wondering why recidivism rates are so high.
Effective reentry requires state, local, and community agencies to ask themselves and each other how we can work together to transition people home and keep them home. But it also requires viewing healthy equity as crime prevention and striving for systems and communities that provide an opportunity for all residents.
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