Prisoner Releases:

Reintegration of Offenders Into Communities

GAO-01-966T: Published: Jul 20, 2001. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 2001.

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Laurie E. Ekstrand
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This testimony discusses prisoner releases and reintegration programs and provides some perspectives on the particular challenges posed by the District of Columbia offenders. Nationally, the total inmate population in federal and state prisons increased almost fourfold during the last two decades. Consistent with the trend of larger prison populations, the number of inmates who complete their sentences and return to communities has also risen significantly in recent years, surpassing the half-million mark in 1998. After being released, many individuals--about 40 percent historically--later return to prison for new offenses or parole violations. The Bureau of Justice Statistics' (BJS) most recent nationwide survey of prison inmates showed that 40 percent of federal inmates and 55 percent of state inmates in prison in 1997 had served prior sentences. BJS data showed that D.C. offenders, in particular, had more extensive criminal histories than the national averages. For example, 98.3 percent of all adult probationers in D.C. had prior convictions, almost twice the national average of 50 percent. BJS' 1997 survey also showed that the bulk of inmates in prison were drug abusers. The National Institute of Justice noted that 69 percent of D.C. offenders arrested in 1999 tested positive for at least one type of drug. GAO found deficiencies in some reintegration programs for D.C. prisoners. For example, few D.C. inmates had the benefit of a transitional period in a halfway house before being released to the community. Although acknowledging that much progress has been made, the Corrections Trustee for the District of Columbia said that a shortage of halfway house beds persists. Several national and D.C. reintegration initiatives exist to assist offenders who are returning to the community. The Young Offender Initiative, the Reentry Grant Program, and the Demonstration Grant Program are among the programs that focus on reducing recidivism, developing job skills, and treating drug abuse problems. This testimony summarizes a June report (GAO-01-483).

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