Research

Snapshot of Justice Involvement -- Prisoner Reentry

Reentry of Formerly Incarcerated Individuals and Mass Incarceration

One of the most challenging problems of our time is to identify how to effectively reduce incarceration rates through improving the outcomes and well-being of those releasing from prison. Prisoner reentry is only one aspect of the criminal justice system that drives high incarceration rate, but given the unprecedented rates of people releasing from prison each day, it is a very important aspect to address. Since the 1980s, incarceration rates increased sevenfold in the United States. Today, over 2.3 million, 1 in 100, Americans are incarcerated in a prison or jail on any given day. This exponential growth led to the United States becoming the world leader in incarceration. Although the United States makes up only 5% of the world's population, 1 in 4 of the world's prisoners is in an American prison or jail. 

The staggering expansion of the American criminal justice system, attributed primarily to overuse of incarceration, has associated detrimental costs to national social and fiscal well-being. The extraordinary rates of imprisonment are concentrated among some of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. Notably, if the United States did not over-incarcerate people of color, the impoverished, and people with behavioral health disorders, the country would not be the world leader in incarceration. 

Despite evidence suggesting that incarceration is a largely failed social intervention -- 77% of prisoners are rearrested for a new crime within five years of their release from incarceration -- the United States spends $80 billion annually on correctional supervision. More problematic is that research has found that incarceration has rippling iatrogenic effects detrimental to former prisoners, children and families of the incarcerated, neighborhoods and communities with high incarceration rates, and to overall public safety and public health. When social costs are included, the cost of incarceration in the United States is over $1 trillion annually. Failed prisoner reentry is a major contributor to exceedingly high incarceration rates in the United States.

Successful prisoner reentry is emerging as a central policy focus. While we were investing in incarceration, little money was spent on developing and implementing large-scale, effective programs for people who commit crimes. This means that identifying effective programs to address risk factors for re-incarceration has been woefully under-researched. Today, a stubborn reality must be addressed that as financial expenditures needed to support mass incarceration soared, and related exclusionary public policy practices proliferated, applied social innovations and conceptual frameworks for effective corrections and rehabilitation grew stagnant. The Institute for Advancing Justice Research and Innovation responds to these realities with applied research conducted with community partners and thus has tremendous potential to impact not only the science of justice, but its lived experience.

Poverty and Reentry

Failed prisoner reentry leads to a large constellation of problematic outcomes for individuals, families, and communities. One of the outcomes that is becoming increasingly difficult to address is the intersection of an incarceration history and poverty.

Highlights of the evidence:

  • A prison record reduces yearly earnings by 40% (Pew Charitable Trust, 2010).
  • Eliminates more than half the earnings men would have otherwise made though the age of 48 (Pew Charitable Trust, 2010)
  • Between 1980 and 2004, incarceration was a major contributor to why the poverty rate remained high despite general economic growth (Defina & Hannon, 2013).
  • Individuals with an incarceration history report an average of $46,000 [in 2016 dollars] less in capital levels compared to peers without an incarceration history (Maroto, 2014).
  • Wages for men with incarceration histories are 10-30% less than for men who have not been to prison (Geller, Garfinkel, and Western, 2006)

See our Reentry Fact Sheet for additional statistics.

See a timeline of policies during the mass incarceration era here.