The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Prisoner Reentry Programming Vs. ‘Treatment-As-Usual' in a State Prison System: A Comprehensive Evaluation

Friday, January 17, 2014: 9:00 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 008A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Christopher A. Veeh, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Margaret E. Severson, JD, Professor, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Kimberly Bruns, MS Ed, Project Manager, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Jaehoon Lee, PhD, Research Associate, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Purpose: Existing research on prisoner reentry programs in the United States points to their having only a limited impact on reducing long-term recidivism rates (Lattimore & Visher, 2009).  Every state struggles to transition thousands of incarcerated individuals back to the community each year (Carson & Sabol, 2012).  This paper reports the analysis and long-term outcomes of a statewide prisoner reentry program.  To provide a comprehensive view of how reentry participants fared following release from prison, intervention outcomes are compared to three equivalent comparison groups of prisoners who received differing levels of “treatment-as-usual” (Fraser et al., 2009) in one Midwestern state prison system.  As evidenced in the research presented here, reentry programs must continue to be rigorously designed, evaluated and improved.  

Methods: Propensity scores, based on an estimated logistic regression model, and caliper matching identified the three comparison groups using age, gender, race, days served on index incarceration, and Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R) composite score as matching variables.  Only intervention cases with a match in all three comparison groups (N= 284) were included in the analysis.  With these four matched groups, analysis began with descriptive comparisons (i.e., chi-square and ANOVA).  Next, differences in recidivism outcomes were examined using survival analysis and path analysis to test for mediation effects.

Results: As a result of limiting analysis to cases with a match in all four groups, descriptive comparisons found differences in prior days in prison, LSI-R scores, and community supervision days and thus were statistically controlled for in further analyses.  However, only prior prison days rose above a small effect (partial ω2= 0.06).  Survival analysis found significant differences amongst the four groups, with the intervention group at greater hazard for re-incarceration than two comparison groups (small to medium effects; 0.26 – 0.40).  Path analysis found community supervision to mediate fully the impact of race on new convictions and returns to prison.  African Americans served significantly more time on community supervision than did Whites, which in turn was associated with a greater chance to recidivate.

Conclusions and Implications: Study results suggest that participation in reentry programming did not improve recidivism outcomes noticeably beyond the “treatment-as-usual” regime.  However, an important finding is that while participants in the reentry group returned to prison more often than participants in two of the comparison groups, there were fewer new convictions among reentry participants than among each of its three counterparts.  Reentry participants primarily returned to prison for technical violations of parole supervision.  This path back to prison must undergo greater scrutiny to determine if the high rate of re-incarceration among reentry participants is a result of a concerted effort to interrupt a criminal cycle or simply an artifact of greater supervision by parole staff.  With the use of rigorous evaluation, such as that described in this study, systematic responses can be developed for reentry and parole staff to protect public safety while also not unnecessarily burdening individuals with repeated returns to prison.