(Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch)


If you think of the criminal justice system as a journey from arrest, to trial, to service of a sentence, to reentering the community, we have always put a lot of emphasis on those first few segments, and really just fallen off for the last phase.

Which is such a shame, because 95% of people who end up behind bars are returning to our communities.

They’re either going to finish their sentence and walk out with no game plan for their future, or they can come out better prepared to avoid the kinds of mistakes and decisions that landed them there in the first place.

Barriers to successful re-entry

Many of those leaving jail or prisons face daunting barriers to successful re-entry:

  • mental health challenges
  • substance abuse
  • education and job training needs
  • employment and affordable housing and transportation
  • knowledgeable family and community support

Benefits of successful re-entry

When people transitioning back to the community are provided individualized case management, treatment services, and support networks both prior to release and immediately following incarceration, we know they have a better shot at success.

If they reenter their community with the same underlying trauma or addiction or anger, then that makes communities less safe and it perpetuates a cycle of re-incarceration that costs taxpayers money, and also puts an unimaginable strain on families and children who have to grow up without the love and support of one parent.

Providing re-entry support for all returning citizens

So when we took a look at what was going on in the state of Virginia, we found that under then-Governor McDonnell, the state developed a pretty strong, comprehensive plan to address re-entry and recidivism reduction for inmates leaving state prisons. And that effort has paid serious dividends.

However, local and regional jails had been left with little guidance or resources. There was no “statewide” re-entry plan, or coordination of resources and efforts. And just as many people leave jail every year as leave state prisons. Jails are increasingly central to justice reform efforts.

Many sheriffs, regional jails, and community service providers have tried to step into in a way that really goes above and beyond their call of duty. We don’t want every sheriff or jail or community to have to reinvent the wheel with respect to re-entry programs.

We also don’t want anyone wasting time and money on programs that don’t work.

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