| youtube, the commons

Report questions effectiveness of inmate transition programs

A Bureau of Prisons (BOP) program is failing in its goal of helping enough inmates transition back into society, according to an inspector general's report.

The report by Michael E. Horowitz, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice, said the program is plagued by weak oversight and poor program design, while a lack of data prevents the Bureau from determining whether it cuts recidivism rates.

The Aug. 31 report said the effectiveness of the Prison Release Preparation Program, which all 121 prisons under the BOP's supervision are required to provide to inmates nearing release, “remains largely unknown.”

Inmates are required to take six, hour-long courses that are designed to help them learn skills such as how to find a job, and handle their personal finances once they are released from prison.

But because of “inconsistencies in the content and quality of the RPP courses,” the report said, the BOP can’t be sure inmates are getting the information they actually need to “successfully transition back into the community.”

The inspector general found that even though completion of all the courses is a requirement of release, two-thirds of inmates fail to finish the entire program.

“There are, in effect, no repercussions for non-participation and no real incentives to participate,” in the programs, the report said.

The audit also found that the BOP does not involve other federal agencies in the release program, which can limit an inmate’s ability to seek additional assistance with veterans benefits, housing, counseling, or job placement after they have been released.

The BOP also “has no performance measures to determine the RPP’s effectiveness in meeting expected program outcomes,” the report said, “particularly the effect of RPP courses on inmate recidivism.”

The BOP said it will not be able to conduct any such studies until late 2016.

In 2015, the BOP reported that of the more than 68,000 federal prisoners released in fiscal year 2013, more than 11,000 either committed new crimes, or violated the terms of their release and were returned to a federal prison.

A 2016 U.S. Sentencing Commission study on recidivism rates took a longer view. Between 2005 and 2013, 49.3 percent of federal offenders released from prison committed a new crime, or violated their release terms.

In its interviews with inmates in the RPP program, the inspector general’s office said inmates wanted more focus on how to obtain government assistance, in addition to how to use technology, more trade certification and apprenticeship programs, and access to college preparatory classes.

One inmate told an interviewer from the inspector general’s office that her RPP classes had showed her how to be a better parent, but failed to offer strategies for coping with the financial hardships most inmates face after their release.

The inspector general’s report recommended the BOP set uniform, national standards for RPP classes, look for “incentives” to encourage inmates to participate in those classes, and gather both feedback from inmates on the coursework, and data on their performance once they are released.

Thomas Kane, the acting director of the BOP, agreed with all the report’s recommendations.