In Depth: A Multifaceted Approach to Reentry

Formerly incarcerated individuals are most likely to turn their lives around if they have a reentry plan tailored to address the underlying challenges they face – from housing and job training to mental illness and substance use disorders.


Communities spend a lot of resources on incarceration but hardly enough on reentry-related services that research shows are essential to improving public safety in the long run. The following services have been shown to have a demonstrable impact on individuals’ ability to successfully reintegrate into their communities.

Ensure a “warm hand-off” following incarceration
Individuals who are going to reoffend are most likely to do so within the first 90 days of release. A robust reentry plan can help reduce this risk. Reentry planning should begin early and should involve connecting with post-release providers prior to release to ensure a “warm hand-off” and front-loaded post-release services. Reentry planning also includes enrollment in benefit programs, obtaining valid IDs, transportation upon release and appropriate community-based supervision based on the individual’s risk level.

Provide job training and employment assistance
Targeted, evidence-based programming and job-training supports individuals and the community at large: studies show formerly incarcerated individuals who worked prior to incarceration and those who find employment soon after release are less likely to be reincarcerated one year out. An education-to-jobs pipeline inside and outside jail could be developed with partnering schools and employers that enables transferable credits and coordinates vocational education with local workforce needs. Once each individual’s needs are properly assessed, that person should be connected to appropriate services. For example, lower-risk individuals with prior employment histories may only need assistance with a job search, while higher-risk individuals without prior employment may require additional services and supervision as well.

Find secure housing
Housing is a critical stabilizing factor that also helps address physical/mental health conditions. Yet individuals returning to their communities often face significant challenges in obtaining affordable and safe housing. Reentry planning should address paths to stable housing, whether it be with family members, roommates, supportive housing or subsidized housing. Housing services can vary in duration, as well as with respect to the additional health, employment and educational supports provided.

Enroll in healthcare and substance abuse treatment
California’s expanded Medicaid program (Medi-Cal) through the Affordable Care Act provides an avenue to improving the health of the justice-involved community. Full benefits include primary care, doctor visits, hospital visits, prescription drugs, mental health services, addiction treatment and preventive care, as well as limited dental care. However, because many justice-involved individuals have little experience with health coverage, counties should prioritize healthcare education for this population and train county staff, such as sheriff and probation officers, as part of the outreach.

Connect to public benefits
Connecting clients to eligible public benefits can help formerly incarcerated individuals get on their feet. These benefits vary by type: health, veterans, basic needs funds, food, work service and social security. Many of these programs are administered at the county level, with different eligibility rules based on income and criminal history. Successful partnerships with enrollment agencies/organizations will be essential to navigating the complicated maze of restrictions and data systems.

Remove collateral consequences
The “collateral consequences” of a criminal conviction are the civil state penalties, mandated by statute, attached to criminal convictions that thwart people seeking to turn their lives around. Many of these are lifetime bans. Removing these barriers is key to breaking the cycle of crime. For instance, for individuals eligible through California’s Proposition 47, expungement and other record-clearing activities can eliminate unnecessary barriers to housing subsidies, employment opportunities and other public assistance.