Breaking the Cycle of Recidivism

One in 32 Americans are either in prison, on parole, or on probation, according to a 2010 report from the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics. Despite the significant number of people affected by the criminal justice system, this “invisible epidemic” has remained largely unaddressed.

In an effort to break the cycle of recidivism, Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) has launched the Goldring Re-entry Initiative, a privately funded field placement opportunity that allows select students to work with those transitioning out of the prison system.

Students who are earning their master’s degree in social work (MSW) coordinate with Department of Corrections officials to provide holistic assessments and develop comprehensive service plans, which include identifying and developing community resources to enable successful re-entry into society. The initiative offers a six-month continuum of care.

Social work students help to make clients’ transitions back home as smooth as possible, meeting with them three months before their release date and maintaining relationships with the clients up to three months after their release from prison.

By following this model, it helps to ensure the client’s discharge plans and referrals to appropriate community agencies will be completed. More importantly, the likelihood of that person going back to prison decreases.

Erica Zaveloff, a 2013 SP2 graduate, came to Penn specifically to be a part of the Initiative. She views reducing recidivism with an interdisciplinary approach, taking into account the roles of education, housing, and mental health treatment.

“There isn’t one answer to the problem of mass incarceration,” she explains. “My classroom experience definitely got me to think more critically about the ways that issues are interdisciplinary and to think more creatively in how we can respond to them.”

The Initiative is led by Professor Joretha Bourjolly and 2013 Doctorate of Social Work graduate Kirk James. Since the Initiative began in 2011, students have worked with nearly 150 clients from eight Philadelphia Prison System facilities.

Text by Jill DiSanto
Video by Kurtis Sensenig