Facilitating Offender Re-entry to Reduce Recidivism: Federal Judicial Center Workshop
This Federal Judicial Center (FJC) workshop focused on facilitating offender re-entry to reduce recidivism, a major priority for Attorney General Eric Holder in his review of federal sentencing and corrections policy, as well as for the multitude of jurisdictions facing unsustainable prison populations alongside dwindling corrections budgets. Speakers at the conference sought to translate the most recent advances in the social sciences, neuroscience, and criminology into practical applications and resources to support all stages of the judicial system, as well as to address issues related to the number of individuals returning to the community from prison suffering from significant cognitive deficiencies, substance abuse and dependency issues, and mental health challenges.
The workshop, spearheaded by Mark Sherman, Senior Education Attorney for the FJC, brought together teams of federal judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, and treatment providers to learn about evidence-based (rather than imitation-based) and innovative approaches to facilitating federal prisoners’ transition from prison to community and reducing recidivism. Approaches discussed included the use of actuarial risk/need instruments at the start of supervised release, cognitive behavioral interventions, and the use of data to drive supervision decisions and improve outcomes, particularly among individuals leaving prison who are at the greatest risk of returning and have the greatest need for support. Other topics included innovations like post-conviction drug and re-entry courts and offender workforce development programs.
A major theme at the workshop was the need for collaboration among a number of diverse – and sometimes traditionally adversarial – stakeholders in order to facilitate successful re-entry and avoid imposing unnecessary obstacles to the transition back to community. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole delivered the keynote address, which emphasized the need to allocate scarce financial resources appropriately toward the most effective programs to reduce the prison population while preserving public safety. Other speakers included Hon. Ann Aiken, Chief Judge of the District Court of Oregon, who simulated a session with a previous offender in re-entry court; Scott Anders, a chief probation officer who drew a comparison between soldiers returning from war and ex-felons coming back from prison; Martha Kane, an addiction specialist who urged caution against punishing drug relapses too harshly; and Kenyen Brown from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Alabama, who described a successful program to help ex-felons find employment; and several exoffenders who were able to provide their perspectives on how to best achieve re-entry.