Family and Other Positive Relationships are Important to Reduce Recidivism
Criminal justice research highlights the importance of family and pro-social relationships in reducing recidivism. Those returning from prison lean on family, friends, and neighborhood resources to stay crime free and reintegrate into society (Cotton, 2014). Studies have consistently found that incarcerated individuals who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates. (Friedmann, 2014). Family ties connect returning citizens to conventional social order and, in doing so, thwart their impulses to recidivate (Berg, 2011). Given the importance of family and pro-social support people for reintegration, researchers have called for greater inclusion of the family in the re-entry process so to “facilitate informal social controls – those interpersonal bonds that link ex-inmates to churches, law-abiding neighbors, families and communities” (Petersilia, 2003, p. 19). Nonetheless, incarcerated individuals often have high expectations about the level of support and assistance they will receive from family. In turn, families often feel ambivalent about letting the returning individual stay with them, but they also may not turn them away (Travis, 2005).
Prisoner Re-entry Mediation
Re-entry mediation provides an opportunity for an incarcerated individual and family members or other support people to meet, with the help of a non-judgmental mediator, before release to have an open, honest, and often difficult dialogue to prepare for the transition back into the community. Sometimes there is lingering conflict from before the incarceration. Sometimes there is resentment, anger, and shame as a result of the charge or things which took place during the incarceration. Re-entry mediation allows everyone involved to talk about their experiences, be heard by each other, and establish a plan on how to move forward productively before the individual is released. Re-entry mediation provides a chance to manage divergent expectations for all participants through a discussion of issues and resolution of, or prevention of, conflicts. By rebuilding relationships between incarcerated individuals and family or support people in the community, Re-entry Mediation taps into the resources indigenous to the community, strengthens these connections, and allows for collaborative transition planning.
Re-entry Mediation Reduces Recidivism
Just one 2-hour mediation session decreases the predicted probability of re-incarceration by 10%. Each additional session decreases the predicted probability by another 7%. This finding holds true when comparing those who mediated to a similar control group and after holding constant for other factors that might affect recidivism.
Current Service Provision
Re-entry mediation is available in almost every state correctional facility and many local detention centers. Volunteer mediators provide the direct mediation services, making the program cost effective. Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services funds support program staff in Baltimore and Hagerstown, and AmeriCorps members funded through the Governor’s Office of Service and Volunteerism provide significant support for the program.
Berg, M. T., & Huebner, B. M. (2011). “Reentry and the Ties that Bind: An Examination of Social Ties, Employment, and Recidivism.” Justice Quarterly, 28(2), 382-410.
Cotton, L., Fahmy, C., Mckay, R. (2014). “Examining the Role of Familial Support During Prison and After Release on Post-Incarceration Mental Health.” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. 60 (1), 3-20.
Friedmann, A. (2014, April 15). “Lowering Recidivism through Family Communication.” Prison Legal News. Retrieved from https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2014/apr/15/lowering-recidivism-through-family-communication/
Petersilia, J. (2003). When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Re-entry Oxford: University Press
Travis, J. (2005). But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press, p. 222
Below are the stories of individuals who used re-entry mediation. All names and identifying details have been changed to protect confidentiality.
Jack had been incarcerated for 14 years, and hoped to live with his father John when he was released. They hadn’t seen each other in all that time. Jack was eager to mediate, but John was reluctant. A session was finally arranged.
When the first mediation session began, John laid into Jack. He was angry about the way Jack had treated him before being locked up – he had felt used, manipulated and taken advantage of. He was particularly worried about Jack’s drug use, and the friends that Jack had used with. He wanted no part of Jack’s life the way it had been. He was especially worried about drugs. He was an addict himself, but had been clean for years, and was not willing to let anything come between him and his sobriety, not even his son.
Jack wanted to tell John about how his life had changed over 14 years. He also was clean, and expressed his admiration of John’s sobriety. He had begun to follow a spiritual path, and wanted to tell John about how his priorities had changed. He looked forward to spending time with John, learning from him and adopting some of John’s successes into his life.
John and Jack decided that Jack would abide by a curfew and would not hang with his old friends; that John would help Jack get a job; that Jack would help with the household expenses; and that Jack would not disturb John’s personal possessions including his computer.