The Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention reports that an average of 55% of youth released from incarceration are rearrested within one year of release while reincarceration and reconfinement rates during the same time frame averaged 24%. Juvenile reentry, which is also referred to as aftercare, is defined as the reintegrative services that prepare youth in out-of-home placements for their return home by establishing the necessary collaboration with the community and its resources to ensure the delivery of needed services and supervision.
For agencies that provide services to these youth, preparing them to be successful in the long term will prove to be more beneficial than simply preparing them to complete a stint on parole once they are released from incarceration. Given the amount of time and effort that clinicians/counselors invest in a juvenile offender, one would hope to have more positive outcomes regarding juvenile reentry.
Based on interviews conducted with delinquent juveniles and service providers, the following key findings on why reentry was not successful were identified:
- A reentry plan from incarceration to aftercare is not consistent among all entities involved.
For more information on Re-entry, go to JJIE Resource Hub | Re-entry
Reentry planning should engage the juvenile, his/her family and service providers who are critical to the youth’s success. One common practice that few will argue with is that reentry planning should begin once the juvenile’s incarceration is initiated. As the juvenile gets closer to being released, the plan becomes more detailed and all stakeholders are notified of their role pertaining to the juvenile’s release.
Juveniles convicted of certain serious crimes in South Carolina are not afforded the luxury of knowing when they will be released because they must serve out their full terms in custody, which can be until their 21st or 22nd birthdays, unless released by the parole board. This uncertainty regarding the release date could reduce the effectiveness of a release plan.
Another prevalent issue is the number of juveniles released who cannot receive services or get a job because they do not have an identification card, Social Security card or birth certificate. Given the lengthy period of time these youth serve, this is something that should be recognized during reentry planning and handled to mitigate future problems related to acquiring a job or enrolling in school.
Developing partnerships with outside agencies is essential to helping these juveniles transition into the community with necessary documentation to gain employment or resume school. Addressing matters related to re-enrollment for Medicaid services, Social Security cards and birth certificates during the reentry phase will prove beneficial to the juvenile’s overall success.
- Aftercare focuses on the short term and lacks long-term support.
Services provided to offenders should focus on building strong connections to positive adult, community or peer support; without those supportive relationships, improved skills or behavior are unlikely to have a long-term impact on public safety. Juveniles frequently expressed that many of the people making decisions for the youth are focused on the short term and do not take the time to find out what the juvenile actually wants for themselves. They said those involved with juvenile care were focused on restrictions (who you can associate with, where you can go, what time to come home), but rarely provided juveniles with positive alternatives that would promote long-term success. Juveniles said they felt the legal system was more punitive toward them, as they would be reincarcerated instead of being provided the assistance they needed, such as mental health counseling or substance abuse counseling, to address why they engage in delinquent behaviors.
They want a job
- There are unrealistic expectations by juveniles and accountability issues.
A vast number of juveniles being released from incarceration have made progress on educational and vocational goals. While these juveniles are making this progress, they are also developing elaborate illusions of getting a well-paying job once they are released via the trade that they are learning. Once this juvenile is released to the community, they may have trouble maintaining employment as a result of their newfound freedom.
For juveniles being released between the ages of 15 to 17, their employment options are limited due to them not being old enough to acquire a job in the field they may have training with while incarcerated. Although they may have the skills to work these jobs, they have not reached the age to enter this job and are not satisfied working at a restaurant or grocery store.
The matter of accountability can also be tied to reentry planning. Juveniles who were faced with revocation routinely identified their parent or legal guardian as playing a role in them violating parole. Juveniles who have to attend counseling or other out-of-home services rely on their parent for transportation and sometimes the parent does not have reliable transportation or refuses to transport the juvenile. This occurrence could possibly result in the juvenile being reincarcerated for circumstances that were beyond their control and also could have been prevented with an adequate reentry plan.
When working with incarcerated youth, the ultimate goal should be to reduce recidivism and increase positive outcomes upon their return to the community. Focusing on these three key findings will help agencies fill in some of the gaps that juveniles encounter along the reintegration process. While service providers may view certain aspects as minor, it could be the difference between a juvenile being able to thrive in the community and a juvenile continuing to be a menace to society.
Nance Bates is the founder of Life’s Blueprint, LLC, a community outreach program in South Carolina designed to enhance personal development, educational opportunities and career development for at-risk youth and their parents.