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Issues in Prisoners’ Reintegration Into the Communities


In the correctional system, reentry refers to processes that surround prisoners’ returning to the community after being released. Time spent at correctional facilities can have profound influences on a person’s behaviors, values, and psychological well-being, and such changes can create barriers to resocialization after imprisonment. Common obstacles to successful prisoner reentry are presented by the loss of access to essential resources after release, harmful effects of traumatic events, mental diseases, stigmatization, and negative influences from families and peers.

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Former prisoners’ confusion after release and the loss of critical resources are among the central issues surrounding the process of reentry in the United States and worldwide. Despite the existence of programs to support ex-prisoners’ rehabilitation, recently released offenders commonly report the loss of essential resources, including “employment, outcome, transportation, medical insurance, and social support” (Pettus-Davis et al., 2020, p. 5).

The unfavorable outcomes of such losses are numerous and include traumatic victimization or new incarceration even without committing actual crimes (Pettus-Davis et al., 2020). For instance, the inability to find stable employment, register one’s new address, or undergo necessary treatment is considered to be an important technical violation (Pettus-Davis et al., 2020). Thus, limited access to key resources creates a series of issues for newly-released prisoners, including the risks of subsequent problems with the law.

Concerns related to former prisoners’ psychological well-being and self-control also deserve attention in the discussion of barriers to successful reentry. Psychological trauma is extremely common in incarcerated individuals, and the fact that offenders often originate from poor or highly criminal environments also adds to the risks of traumatic experiences after release from prison. Thus, Pettus-Davis et al. (2020) state that 47% of former prisoners experience at least one traumatic event (death/disease of a loved one, witnessing others’ death, etc.) in the first eight months after release. Due to their disruptive influences on a person’s mood and behaviors, post-release traumatic events can become potential contributors to self-control issues, which might increase the risks of new crimes.

When it comes to mental health, the critics of current reentry programs also note the limited use of successful approaches to reentry programming, for instance, cognitive behavioral therapy, as an issue (Ortiz & Jackey, 2019). The use of CBT in programming allows teaching newly-released offenders how to keep track of their thoughts, behaviors, and mental condition to prevent mental breakdowns leading to new offenses.

Additional vulnerabilities, such as having mental health diagnoses, also complicate the already challenging process of reentry. According to research, the post-release outcomes of individuals with mental health concerns are far worse compared to those of people without diagnoses. For instance, the presence of major psychiatric disorders is associated with drastic increases in recidivism rates and subsequent incarcerations (Kendall et al., 2018).

Thus, there are reentry programs that are specifically aimed at promoting mental health and rehabilitation in inmates with mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or personality disorders (Kendall et al., 2018). Although such programs may vary in terms of effectiveness, their existence highlights the status of mental disorders as a significant barrier to smooth reentry to everyday life as a free citizen.

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Another issue surrounding the process of reentry relates to limitations and communication problems for formerly incarcerated individuals that stem from the stigma of prison. Particularly, negative attitudes to those who have been incarcerated and internalized some elements of prison culture affect recently released prisoners when it comes to job search (Gill & Wilson, 2017). The positive link between unemployment and propensity to crime has been researched extensively, and finding stable employment is justly considered one of the critical components of reintegration into society (Gill & Wilson, 2017).

Nevertheless, due to stigma, competition in the market, and assumptions about the responsibility and reliability of those who have been incarcerated, unemployment rates for ex-prisoners remain substantially high during the reentry process (Gill & Wilson, 2017). Aside from stigmatization, former prisoners’ relatively low educational attainment (only 65% of prisoners have completed secondary school) adds to the barriers to successful employment and reintegration after release (Gill & Wilson, 2017). Therefore, positive reentry outcomes are often difficult to achieve because of obstacles to obtaining jobs and keeping them.

Interpersonal communication and social support from others are also known to affect reentry outcomes in former prisoners. Traditionally, families are believed to act as “important protective mechanisms against recidivism” (Mowen & Boman, 2019, p. 681).

Considering this, family support may need to be fostered and promoted using reentry programs to maximize former inmates’ chances of successful reintegration and mental stability. Peer communication also plays a significant role in reentry processes, and peers often turn out to be even more influential than families. For example, current research demonstrates that peer support during prison reentry has more pronounced effects in preventing recidivism compared to support from family members (Mowen & Boman, 2019). Taking that into account, the lack of positive social relationships with peers and relatives or families’ criminogenic influences can affect former inmates’ chances of successful reentry.


To sum up, multiple obstacles affect recently released prisoners’ ability to reintegrate into their communities. Among them are vulnerabilities, such as mental diagnoses, experiences of trauma, limited access to required resources, unemployment resulting from stigma, and influences from others. To reduce recidivism, it is essential to evaluate current reentry programs in terms of how they address the known barriers to ex-prisoners reintegration.


Gill, C., & Wilson, D. B. (2017). Improving the success of reentry programs: Identifying the impact of service-need fit on recidivism. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 44(3), 336-359. 

Kendall, S., Redshaw, S., Ward, S., Wayland, S., & Sullivan, E. (2018). Systematic review of qualitative evaluations of reentry programs addressing problematic drug use and mental health disorders amongst people transitioning from prison to communities. Health & Justice, 6(1), 1-11. 

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Mowen, T. J., & Boman, J. H. (2019). Do we have it all wrong? The protective roles of peers and criminogenic risks from family during prison reentry. Crime & Delinquency, 65(5), 681-704. 

Ortiz, J. M., & Jackey, H. (2019). The system is not broken, it is intentional: The prisoner reentry industry as deliberate structural violence. The Prison Journal, 99(4), 484-503. 

Pettus-Davis, C., Renn, T., & Kennedy, S. (2020). Trauma and loss during reentry: Early findings from a multi-state trial. Institute for Justice Research and Development. 

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