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Release Planning for Successful Reentry

A Guide for Corrections, Service Providers, and Community Groups

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Document date: September 26, 2008
Released online: October 08, 2008

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This report is designed to help the corrections community, service providers and community groups prepare prisoners for the moment of release from prison and the time immediately following release. It describes the eight most basic and immediate needs returning prisoners have when they exit prison, recommends minimum policies practitioners can institute to meet these needs, and highlights the opportunities and challenges practitioners face when trying to improve their release planning policies. The report also uses the results of a UI survey of 43 departments of corrections to illustrate what release planning procedures are currently being implemented across the country.


Over the past five years, significant progress has been made in addressing the issues surrounding prisoner reentry. State departments of correction (DOCs) have launched a variety of initiatives designed to improve the reentry process, but little attention has been paid to the role of release planning as preparation for the moment of release and as a mechanism for connecting former prisoners with appropriate services and support systems in their communities. The moment of release represents a critical point in time that can make or break an inmate’s successful reintegration into society. While virtually every DOC in the country is engaged in something that could be termed “discharge” or “release” planning, the depth and breadth of such plans vary widely.

The purpose of this report is to describe the specific elements that together embody thoughtful and effective prisoner release procedures, including considerations such as photo identification, transportation, gate money, public assistance access, prescription drug needs, health referrals, housing arrangements, and substance abuse treatment. This information is developed from a national survey of state correctional departments, a scan of practice on the topic of release planning, as well as a literature review on the topic. The report is intended as a resource for corrections agencies and their community partners as they work to improve the way prisoners are prepared for release, as well as a mechanism for raising awareness of the use of both community and governmental resources when planning for release. While the primary audience for this report is staff of state correctional institutions and their community supervision partners, many of the recommendations can be applied to jail settings–particularly those that house inmates sentenced to a year or more.

The report begins by defining what constitutes release planning, situating it within the broader and more long term process of reentry planning. Drawing from published studies and reports, we identify the various components of exemplary release policies and discuss why they are critical to a smooth and effective discharge procedure. In order to provide a real-world context for these findings, we compare them to the results of an Urban Institute survey of 43 state departments of correction on their current release policies and procedures. At the end of each topical area, text boxes highlight recommendations for what correctional agencies should be doing at the bare minimum to prepare exiting prisoners for release; our hope is that readers will not only aspire to implement these base practices, but will also use this guide to expand their release planning efforts. As most of these practices cannot be accomplished exclusively by correctional agencies, the next section describes how DOCs can engage both internal and external partners in support of effective release planning, including gaining institutional compliance with release procedures, encouraging releasees to follow through on their release plans, engaging community and other agency partners, and influencing revisions to statutory and regulatory barriers to effective release planning. We close with a discussion of the future of effective release procedures and a summary of this report’s key recommendations. Appendices highlight case studies of promising release planning strategies, responses from the UI Release Planning Survey, and a scan of release policies across the country.

Because all correctional agencies undergo some process or series of procedures associated with the release of persons from their institutions, this report aims to capitalize on that fact by pushing agencies to think more creatively about how to enhance the discharge process to ensure that the most basic needs for successful reentry are met.

(End of excerpt. The entire report is available in PDF format.)

Topics/Tags: | Crime/Justice | Governing

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