By Cleveland Bell, Riverside House CEO
In this blog post series, we are talking about the four successful aspects of reentry, or how a returned citizen can successfully come back into society after being incarcerated. We have discussed the importance of starting the process early and why it’s crucial to treat prisoners as people, not inmates.
Both of these things are important in the very early stages of incarceration, so in this post, we will talk more about something that happens later: follow up.
This is basically the aftercare phase of reentry, and it’s very important as well. When I was released from prison, I was placed on three years probation. During this time, I met monthly with my probation officer and was able to demonstrate that my efforts for reentry had been successful. According to Prison Fellowship, 4.8 million people in the U.S. are on probation or parole, and the average length of probation is 19 months.
My probation ended early, and by many accounts, I was the “ideal candidate.” But it was only a good experience because I had that follow up in my life. I had someone to talk to about my case that I was required to stay in touch with. This helped keep me accountable, and accountability is important, often a vital step in successful reentry.
Those who have been in prison need to know that they are not walking it by themselves. They don’t have to think of everything on their own. After being incarcerated for 10 years and making an investment of $40,000 a year, we can’t just kick somebody to the curb and expect them to figure it out. Even in the old days, released prisoners got $100 and a change of clothes.
Having follow up through probation does work for many, particularly women and those with few prior arrests. They are more likely to be successful with reentry and less likely to be arrested again. This Right on Crime article citing a 2005 Urban Institute study, says monitoring and follow up through in-person meetings or phone check-ins are crucial.
Follow up is a big part of our process at Riverside House. Returned citizens come to us, and we know their reentry into the community will take time. It’s not something that happens over a few days, weeks, or even months. Our residents are with us 120 to 160 days, then we follow up with them for three years after they leave.
Being committed to the long-term process is crucial to restore the lives of offenders and help them live successful lives after incarceration. Having a team around them is also important, so we’ll talk about why it takes a village to successfully reenter society in the last post of this series.