“You have the opportunity to see and be part of a real change.” It was with those enticing final words that I decided I would participate in the new Goldring Reentry Initiative (GRI) at the University of Pennsylvania. In April 2011, SP2 Faculty Advisor Dr. Ram Cnaan and Program Director Kirk James, introduced an innovative and groundbreaking project to the MSW Class of 2012. This project would be first of its kind in Social Work graduate programs and would be a special and unique opportunity for a select group of students to organize and develop a comprehensive program focused on decreasing the recidivism rate in the City of Philadelphia. We have partnered with various local reentry* organizations including the Mayors Office of Reintegration Services (RISE), The Institute of Community Justice (ICJ) at Philadelphia FIGHT, and Access to Recovery (ATR).
Our role as social workers is to work with a particular cohort of inmates who have been selected by the Defenders Association for early release. We are working with them 90 days prior to their release and 90 days following this release date. Every week we will meet with our clients at the Philadelphia Prison System (PPS) and create an effective discharge plan that the defenders association can present to the sentencing judge to advocate on their behalf. These discharge plans will focus on our client’s needs, such as unemployment, housing, substance abuse treatment, family counseling and education.
With an assortment of both macro and clinically based students, we as a group are able to develop and hone many skills practiced and learned during our first year in the program. We work clinically with our clients yet focus on the larger issues of city support, community reintegration and family reunification. We juxtapose the efficacy of city and federal resources available with the strengths and specific needs of our clients.
Following our clients release, we will continue to serve as a support service for an additional 90 days. We believe that the ongoing support and concern is effective in preventing and decreasing the re- arrest rate of formerly incarcerated individuals**. For clients without a stable or positive relationship in the community, a simple phone call or extension of resources from a case manager can preclude them from falling back into their criminal habits.
This is an exciting time to be at Penn. Although pilot programs are often challenging, it is intriguing to participate in the improvement and implementation of this new project. We are thrilled to be the founding members of this innovative program and are excited to witness its growth and expansion.
Reentry is defined as the process of leaving jail and returning to society. Virtually all inmates experience reentry, irrespective of their method of release or the presence of community supervision. “Transition” has also been used to describe the reentry process, and in this report we use the terms interchangeably.
Our assumption is that successful reentry strategies would translate into public safety gains, in the form of reduced recidivism, and the long-term reintegration of the formerly incarcerated individual. Successful reintegration outcomes would include increased participation in social institutions such as the labor force, families, communities, schools, and religious institutions. There are financial and social benefits associated with both public safety and reintegration improvements.
Reentry is not a program, not a form of supervision, not an option.
**Note on Language
People in jail are incarcerated under a number of different legal statuses. They are often referred to as “detainees” if they are on pretrial status or “inmates” if they are convicted and sentenced to jail. In this report, we refer to all people held in local jails as inmates to distinguish them from people incarcerated in state and federal prison (prisoners). We refer to former inmates and prisoners as “individuals” or “people” whenever possible.
Source: Solomon, A. L., Osborne, J. W., LoBuglio, S. F., Mellow, J., & Mukamal, D. A. (2008). Life After Lockup: Improving Reentry from Jail to the Community. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
By: Stan Kuklick, MSW Advanced Year Clinical Candidate 2012