The State of Reentry

A Bipartisan Emphasis on Reentry

More than 600,000 people return to their communities each year after serving time in state and federal prisons, as do nearly nine million people from the nation’s jails.[]Based on the most recent numbers published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). For the number of people leaving prison, see E. Ann Carson, Prisoners in 2016 (Washington, DC: BJS, 2018), 10. For information regarding the methodology with which the jail release number was calculated, see Zhen Zeng, Jail Inmates in 2016 (Washington, DC: BJS, 2018), 1, 5-6. In the methodology section, Zeng outlines that jail turnover rates were calculated by adding admissions and releases and then dividing this number by the average daily population (ADP). The weekly turnover rate and ADP were obtained from Tables 5 and 6. The admissions figure was ascertained by dividing the yearly admissions total given on page two by 52 to arrive at a weekly admissions total. The number of weekly releases was calculated using the aforementioned formula and by multiplying this number by 52 to give the number of yearly releases. Another more than 2.5 million people complete parole or probation.[]Danielle Kaeble, Probation and Parole in the United States, 2016 (Washington, DC: BJS, 2018), 1. A conviction history carries negative consequences for people reentering their communities and reuniting with their families, often in the form of barriers to pivotal aspects of establishing successful lives, including getting jobs, securing stable housing, and going to school.[]Urban Institute, Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry: Research Findings from the Urban Institute’s Prisoner Reentry Portfolio (Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, 2006).

Due in part to the difficulty of overcoming these barriers, five out of six people who have spent time in a state prison will be arrested for a new crime within nine years of their release.[]BJS, 2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-Year Follow-up Period (2005-2014) (Washington, DC: BJS, 2018). Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle supported policies this year that were designed to improve reentry outcomes, such as the federal FIRST STEP Act, which incentivizes education and recidivism-reduction programs for people in federal prisons.[]FIRST STEP Act, S.756, 115th Congress (2018); and Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, “President Trump Signs First Step Act into Law, Reauthorizing Second Chance Act,” December 21, 2018. Access to postsecondary education, both during and after incarceration, expanded; more than a million people who had been disenfranchised because of felony convictions regained the right to vote in Florida; and 14 states enacted laws easing occupational licensing restrictions on people with criminal records.[]See Alia Wong, “The Common App Will Stop Asking about Students’ Criminal Histories,” Atlantic, August 10, 2018; Vera Institute of Justice, Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative Update (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2018); Rosalind S. Helderman, “Florida Restores Voting Rights for Felons, Amid Bevy of Ballot Measures Nationwide,” November 7, 2018, Washington Post; Nebraska LB 299 (2018); Tennessee HB 2248 (2018); Kansas HB 2386 (2018); and Indiana HB 1245 (2018).

In fact, a report by the Collateral Consequence Resource Center called 2018 “the high point of recent state efforts to restore rights and status to people with a criminal record.”[]Margaret Love and David Schlussel, Reducing Barriers to Reintegration: Fair Chance and Expungement Reforms in 2018 (Washington, DC: Collateral Consequences Resource Center, 2019), 4. Nineteen states enacted laws making it easier for people to seal and expunge their criminal records—including a first-of-its-kind law in Pennsylvania that automatically seals some records after 10 years.[]Love and Schlussel, Reducing Barriers to Reintegration, 2. For Pennsylvania’s law, see Pennsylvania HB 1419 (2018). And, with the labor pool shrinking as unemployment drops, more companies recognized the benefits of hiring formerly incarcerated people.[]Ben Casselman, “As Labor Pool Shrinks, Prison Time is Less of a Hiring Hurdle,” New York Times, January 13, 2018. Several California counties reduced, eliminated, or even refunded fees for justice system involvement—and the state began reviewing old marijuana convictions for possible expungement.[]For justice system fee waivers, see Trisha Thadani, “Criminal Justice System Fees for 21,000 Waived,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 23, 2018. For expungement of marijuana records, see Lindsay Schnell, “Marijuana Reform: New California Law Gives People a Do-Over,” USA Today, October 2, 2018.

Top Things to Know

  1. More than a million people with felony convictions regain the right to vote.
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  2. California counties end burdensome court fees—and some states limit them.
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  3. More than a dozen states lift barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people.
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  4. More states make it easier to seal and expunge criminal records.
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Facts and Figures

On Our Radar

  • Educational doors open for formerly incarcerated people.
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  • Hundreds graduate from Second Chance Pell college in prison program.
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  • Low jobless rates mean more opportunities for people with conviction histories.
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  • California reviews thousands of marijuana cases for possible expungement.
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  • FIRST STEP Act revives transitional housing for people in federal prison.
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  • Second Chance Act reauthorized at last minute, after inclusion in FIRST STEP Act.
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Best of 2018


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