Exploring the Needs and Risks of the Returning Prisoner Population


Much has and continues to be written and discussed on the topic of released prisoners. Finally, after three decades of unrelenting efforts by federal and state policymakers to incarcerate record numbers of men, women and children, there is new concern about the consequences of America's imprisonment binge on those incarcerated, their families and children, and the communities from whence they came. Several states are reconsidering the wisdom of their incarceration trends and are pursuing new strategies to start reducing their prison populations. But for prison populations to be reduced, policymakers and the public must be assured that such actions are safe and will not compromise the public's safety.

This paper has the following objectives. First, it is intended to provide a general discussion on the concepts of risk, needs, and stability at both the prisoner and community levels. We then draw our attention to the unique situation faced by prisoners with children and the obstacles that must be overcome to maintain any type of parental relationship while incarcerated and after release. In particular, we focus on the plight of the growing number of prisoners serving lengthy prison terms (lifers).

We close with some suggestions (both practical and utopian) about what reforms (legislative and programmatic) are needed to address these systemic conditions (both at the prisoner and community levels) that serve to worsen the imprisoned mother and father's ability to succeed once released.

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