Penn Researcher Finds High Recidivism Rate Is Due to Few Transitional Services for Ex-Offenders

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto-Haines | jdisanto@upenn.edu | 215-898-4820June 5, 2008

PHILADELPHIA —The lack of organized transitional services often leads ex-convicts straight back into the prison system, according to a researcher from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice.

Ram Cnaan evaluated Philadelphia’s social-service capacity for ex-prisoner re-entry and found that, although Philadelphia is currently ahead of most American cities when it comes to offering coordinated services to people being released from prison, there’s a strong need for inter-agency collaboration and information sharing. He also found that investment in “human capital” for ex-offenders to obtain employment and education is essential for a successful transition back into society and for lowering the chances that an ex-offender will return to prison.

Each year, approximately 40,000 people are released from federal, state and local incarceration into the Philadelphia region. At any given time, there are between 200,000 and 400,000 former prisoners in need of some kind of help, whether it is emergency shelter, in-patient substance-abuse treatment, mental-health treatment, housing-related services, education assistance, job training and placement or family counseling. These numbers and problems are similar to those in major cities across the U.S., Cnaan said.

“The overwhelming majority of former prisoners want to start a new chapter in life, but it’s difficult,” he said.

In the study, Penn researchers found that the existing human-service organizations all had the capacity to serve more clients, and were willing to do so, but more coordination between the re-entry services needs to be established in order to better serve the ex-prisoner population.

Additionally, many of these services are in city centers, away from the neighborhoods that cope with larger groups of ex-prisoners. Coordination between services and branches in designated neighborhoods can make them more easily accessible and will encourage former inmates to use these transitional services, Cnaan said.

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