New Recommendations for Improving Jail to Community Reentry in Los Angeles

NEW YORK—Jail and prison reentry services are designed to help people who are released succeed in the community—and are associated with lower rates of criminal activity and reincarceration, as well as improved public safety. They include interventions such as job skills training, educational programming, housing assistance, and behavioral health treatment. However, implementing reentry programs in correctional settings is challenging, particularly in jails, where stays are typically short and turnover is high.

The Los Angeles County Jail is the largest correctional facility in the United States, with more than 160,000 admissions annually. Faced with significant overcrowding and a burgeoning population, jail authorities have launched a number of reentry initiatives over the past decade. In 2010, with support from The California Endowment, the Vera Institute of Justice partnered with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and a number of community-based organizations to assess reentry services for people leaving the jail. The recent implementation of California’s Public Safety Realignment Act underscores the importance of reexamining reentry services, as many people who would formerly have been sentenced to state prisons are now serving their sentences in the Los Angeles County Jail.

Vera researchers examined existing reentry services, analyzed their strengths and weaknesses, and recommended changes that could increase the efficacy of interventions for the 160,000 people who pass through the L.A. County jail annually. Making the Transition: Rethinking Jail Reentry in Los Angeles County, a new report based on this research, provides recommendations for improving reentry programming and supports. The eleven recommendations fall into three general areas for improvement: reentry service delivery and engagement; operations and efficiency; and coordination.

In some cases, there are quick fixes, such as providing reentry staff with uniforms that are distinct from those of other custody staff, distributing flyers about reentry programs via mail call, and providing all materials in Spanish and advertising translation services. Other strategies will require long-term planning, such as using administrative data to identify and target people who cycle through jail repeatedly, working with community-based organizations to track reentry outcomes, and providing basic supports (such as identification cards or reinstating benefits) to all people leaving the jail.

“Our partnerships with both the LASD and community organizations were core components of this project,” said Jim Parsons, the lead author of the study and director of Vera’s Substance Use and Mental Health Program. “By describing the challenge of jail reentry from multiple perspectives and providing a roadmap for building coordinated services on both sides of the jail wall, we hope this report serves as a starting point for conversations among LASD staff, community leaders, funders, government officials, and representatives of nonprofit organizations.”

To arrive at the recommendations, Vera researchers interviewed 80 people in the jail and talked to a wide range of LASD staff and administrators, community leaders, and service providers. They also analyzed administrative data held by the jail. Among the findings:

  • The most common hurdles that people held in the jail expected to encounter upon release were related to employment, housing, and substance use.
  • Those who had contact with reentry services in the jail found them to be helpful, but only a small minority of those interviewed received services.
  • Despite recent initiatives by the LASD to bring community service organizations into the jail to provide reentry support (known as jail in-reach), service providers are often hampered by problems securing funding and LASD authorization to provide in-jail services. Budgetary constraints and understaffing adversely affect reentry services.
  • Most community service providers lack sufficient capacity to evaluate the effectiveness of the reentry services that they provide.
  • There is limited communication and coordination between the LASD, other government agencies, and the range of community-based service providers.