Abstract: I Feel Welcome - Returning Citizen's Experiences with Smart Reentry Programming Post Incarceration (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

I Feel Welcome - Returning Citizen's Experiences with Smart Reentry Programming Post Incarceration

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Archives, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Sarwat Sharif, MSW, MSP, MCS, PhD Student, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Edwin Bacalso, MSW, Program Manager, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
James Topitzes, PhD, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Danielle Romain Dagenhardt, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Background and Purpose:

While reentry services and programs are evolving across the U.S., very few programs offer wraparound services to individuals returning to the community post-incarceration. This study examines a Smart Reentry program in an urban, Midwestern city, examining the participants' experience of receiving wraparound services to support successful reentry to the community after release from prison. The qualitative evaluation study involved interviews of seven men with a history of medium to high-risk offenses with a primary aim to understand whether the Smart Reentry program supported their social integration and family reunification post-release. These participants received peer mentorship and support from paraprofessionals who had similar histories of incarceration and understood the obstacles faced during social reintegration upon returning to the community.


To understand the participants’ experience of the Smart Reentry program, the research team completed hour-long interviews with the seven participants in 2019-2020. Questions focused on understanding participants' experiences of program service delivery, perceptions of program staff (i.e., peer support guides and family support specialists), perceptions on the causes of crime and risk factors for recidivism, issues related to physical and mental health, and current activities. Interviews were recorded and transcribed. To understand the program's impact, the research team utilized a phenomenological approach, searching for common phrases used by participants and iteratively reducing the data into categories and themes. For this analysis, the authors focused on experiences with the program and with staff.


The participants expressed positive regard for the wraparound Smart Reentry services, as it kept them motivated and aided in reducing the risk of recidivism. The peer guides provided services as needed by the participants, enhancing predictors to successful reentry while also helping participants navigate the Department of Corrections requirements/restrictions. Most of the participants appreciated the Smart Reentry program’s approach to family and community reunification as a strength.

Conclusions and Implications:

The Smart Reentry program incorporated several promising practices in reentry service delivery, such as use of peer guides and comprehensive wraparound services. All participants reported that they benefited from the peer support element, giving them hope and motivation to do better in life. The family support aspect of the program also had value, as it helped mend broken relationships with loved ones. More research is needed on understanding how wraparound reentry programming can help participants achieve long-term goals and be successful in their socioeconomic reintegration.

Key recommendations and policy implications consist of improving reentry programming to meet participants' evolving needs, hiring peer guides as reentry program staff to help navigate reintegration challenges, create hope and motivate participants to continue their desistence journeys by way of modeling. As the reentry literature suggests, program staff with a history of incarceration can better understand the lived realities and challenges recently released individuals face. Their mentorship can also create a desire for participants to follow in their footsteps, shifting their attention from problem focused to a strengths-based corrections approach to reentry.