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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Rutgers Professor Studies Lasting Effects of Prison Sentences on Formerly Incarcerated Persons

Rutgers School of Public Health professor, Dr. Pamela Valera, knows that a prison sentence continues to affect a person’s life long after they leave the prison system; reentry requires deliberate planning. While formerly incarcerated individuals suffer higher rates of chronic and infectious disease, substance abuse, and serious mental illness, formerly incarcerated individuals often lack the ability to identify and apply for social services. Even worse, many states bar them from receiving certain public benefits.

[Photo: Dr. Pamela Valera]

For many incarcerated persons, the prison system becomes a fixture of their lives. A Bureau of Justice Statics report found that more than two-thirds of offenders across 30 states were rearrested within three years of their release; nearly three-quarters were rearrested within five years. Dr. Valera and her colleagues set out to identify some of the factors that translated to successful reintegration instead of recidivism.

Twenty racial- and ethnic-minority men and women with criminal justice histories participated in a questionnaire, interview, and focus group to share their experiences. The majority noted that there had been no prerelease planning such: no medical care, no mental health, no social service arrangements. One participant remembers: “…each time I came home things got harder, and each time I came home I learned something different for the next time I came home ‘cause it just became like a revolving door.” For those men and women who successfully transitioned out of the prison system, many credited their success to the presence of a supportive network of family, friends, and mentors.

Future research might focus on individuals in other settings, like rural communities or areas outside of New York City. In the meantime, Dr. Valera’s research about successful offender reintegration from the perspective of the individuals most affected by repeated criminal activity and recidivism — the offenders themselves — is an important and unique contribution to understanding the path through the criminal justice system.

It’s hard to reenter when you’ve been locked out” was recently published in the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation.