Panel: Assessing and Building the Evidence Base on Reentry: What's Known, What’s Needed, and What's Next?
(Crime, Justice, and Drugs)

Thursday, November 7, 2019: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Plaza Building: Lobby Level, Director's Row E (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizer:  Hannah Betesh, Abt Associates, Inc.
Panel Chair:  Johanna Lacoe, California Policy Lab
Discussant:  Andrew Wiegand, Social Policy Research Associates

Individuals returning to society after incarceration face numerous barriers to successful reentry, including obtaining and retaining employment. Addressing the employment challenges faced by justice-involved individuals has broad, bipartisan support, as demonstrated by the recent passage of the First Step Act and the reauthorization of the Second Chance Act. Policymakers now often require documentation of evidence-based approaches that improve the employment outcomes of individuals after they reenter society from incarceration. To provide an overview of this evidence base, this session will review what is known about effective strategies, how existing evidence can be interpreted and applied, where further research is needed and headed, and what individuals most impacted by the current service delivery landscape identify as their most pressing needs and potential strategies for addressing them. The panel builds on the recent Point/Counterpoint discussion in JPAM on wrap-around services and reentry.

The first paper will present findings from a literature review of evidence on the effectiveness of programs that aim to improve the reintegration and rehabilitation of the formerly-incarcerated, including interventions that provide wrap-around services to address a range of needs such as employment, housing, mental health treatment, and substance abuse treatment. This literature review focuses on those interventions that have undergone rigorous evaluations using a randomized controlled trial or natural experiment design, and concludes that wrap-around services are not an effective strategy for increasing employment rates or reducing recidivism.

The second paper will discuss the nuances behind the evidence on wraparound services: namely, that these interventions have generally been light-touch and/or inconsistently implemented across sites included in the research studies.  In looking ahead to improve the likelihood of determining what strategies are effective, the presentation will review the importance of focusing evaluations on programs that (1) train staff in appropriate evidence-based case management models, (2) use validated curricula and materials and (3) monitor implementation practices to ensure fidelity to the model.

The third paper will discuss findings from a federally-funded review of the evidence on employment-focused reentry programming, which considered both pre-release and post-release interventions for improving employment outcomes and reducing recidivism, and whether interventions studied showed impacts for justice-involved young adults (18-24) specifically. Prior evidence, including studies discussed in the first two presentations, indicates that light-touch approaches do not produce desired improvements in participants’ employment and recidivism outcomes after their release from incarceration, but gaps in the knowledge base remain about whether more intensive reentry employment programs can improve those outcomes when implemented with sufficient intensity and fidelity, as well as what strategies work for young adults specifically.

The fourth paper, a qualitative study on reentry service needs, will supplement the preceding reviews of the literature with the perspectives of fathers in reentry and their families on the extent to which available services meet their needs, as well as what additional approaches would be most appropriate to address unfilled gaps in services in order to support successful reentry and father engagement post-release.     

Finally, the principal investigator for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Reentry Employment Opportunities Evaluation will discuss how the themes in the four papers align with the national landscape and future of research on effective reentry strategies.

Encouraging Desistance from Crime
Jennifer Doleac, Texas A&M University

Improving Reentry Program Strategies and Outcomes
Janeen Buck Willison, Urban Institute

Can Intensive Employment Strategies Support Successful Reentry?
Hannah Betesh, Abt Associates, Inc. and Johanna Lacoe, California Policy Lab

A Qualitative Exploration of Reentry Service Needs: The Case of Fathers Returning from Prison
Luke Muentner and Pajarita Charles, University of Wisconsin, Madison

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