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.
Robin and Daniel had known each other before Daniel was incarcerated, but during the few years of his sentence their relationship had bloomed, and they had fallen in love. As Daniel’s release date neared, they realized that they had some things to straighten out.
Over several mediation sessions, they discussed many things. First, they decided that they would indeed get married. However, Robin followed a spiritual path that required many specific actions. Daniel was intrigued by Robin’s spirituality, but had many questions about its specifics. Daniel and Robin made a plan about how Daniel would make his spiritual exploration, and what they would do together as a couple.
Robin and Daniel were well-acquainted with each other’s families. It was important to Daniel to live a peaceful life when he was released, and he wanted to stay away from some members of both families. Robin looked forward to Daniel’s becoming closer to her family. Together, they planned who they would welcome into their lives, how they would initiate some relationships and how they would avoid other relationships.
Daniel and Robin looked forward to Daniel taking his place as a parent to Robin’s children. They planned how they would foster these relationships, and also decided how they would proceed in getting Daniel the opportunity to spend time with his own children.
Robin and Daniel also discussed their wedding in mediation and made plans for this exciting event!
Richard was about to be released from his most recent sentence. He wanted to talk with his family, and mediation was arranged with his mother, Cecilia; father, Richard Sr.; and sister, Thelma. There was only time for one session before Richard was released.
In the mediation, Cecilia spoke of her hopes for Richard – how much she loved him, how much she missed him, how much she wanted him to succeed. Richard Sr. felt excited about having Richard home to help in his trucking business. Thelma felt lonely without her brother.
Working quickly, half a dozen topics – items that the participants wanted to make a plan about – had been selected. The mediators thought there was time to brainstorm a solution to one of them, and asked the family where they would like to start. Without a moment’s hesitation, Cecilia said, “Drugs.” She talked about how she had started with high hopes every time Richard had been released before, but had felt shattered when he started using again. Richard Sr. chimed in, agreeing with Cecilia, and Thelma began to cry.
Richard felt shaken, but agreed that his biggest challenge on the outside was drugs. He wanted to stay clean on the outside, but felt afraid he might relapse. The family’s plan included Richard Sr. contacting Richard’s NA sponsor and going to NA meetings with him when he got out. Also, Richard would spend his time helping in Richard Sr.’s business, so he would have something productive filling his time.
Reginald expected to be released from prison in a couple of months and had no place to live. Before he was incarcerated, he lived at his mother’s house and hoped she would allow him to stay there again until he was able to get a job and his own place. Reginald was terrified of being homeless and falling back into his old ways. Reginald mediated with his mother, Kelly, and his sister, Susan.
During the mediation, Kelly said that Reginald was not permitted to live with her, and that she still angry at him from the last time he was home. Kelly told him how she thought that when she retired two years ago at the age of 65 that she would travel and spend time with her grandchildren. Now, instead, she was working two jobs to pay back credit card debt that Reginald ran up in her name.
Susan spoke about how she felt conflicted in conversations like this with her mother and brother. While she was close to her brother and loved him very much, she also understood where Kelly was coming from and agreed living at Kelly’s place was a bad idea. Susan said that Reginald’s alcohol, drug and gambling addictions were what motivated him to steal and that in order for him to repair his relationship with Kelly that he needed to get help.
In mediation, the participants made plans for Reginald to go to a six month inpatient drug and alcohol rehab after release.
Before he was locked up, Clarence lived with Lori at her place and was unsure if he wanted to return there when he got out. During mediation, Clarence described their relationship as explosive – a mix of good and bad – and that often he did not know what type of mood Lori would be in each day or what to expect. Still, he said that he was in love with her and wanted to try to find some common ground to see if there was a way they would have a future together.
Lori said that she had been hurt in the past in relationships with other guys and explained that was why she acted unpredictably sometimes with Clarence. Even though she believed that Clarence was being honest with her, she felt that she may be unable to ever fully trust him.
In the problem-solving stage of mediation, Lori and Clarence brainstormed many ideas about how they could communicate differently in the future. They worked on ideas that would allow Lori to feel trust towards Clarence and allowed Clarence to feel safe expressing himself to Lori.
Through the thoughtful consideration they were able to do in mediation, Clarence and Lori decided that it was better for them not to stay together. Clarence moved in with his grandparents after release. Lori decided that living alone was what she needed to move forward.
Hector desperately wanted to mediate with the pastor from the church he belonged to before incarceration. Eager to mediate with Hector, Pastor Brandon said he felt guilty for a promise he made to Hector and wanted the opportunity to apologize. In mediation, Hector asked Pastor Brandon for forgiveness explaining that he felt guilty for letting him down and the effect his family break up had on the congregation.
Formerly an employee of the church, Hector stole money from the weekly collections to pay for drugs. After he was arrested, Hector’s wife filed for divorce and abruptly moved to another state with their children. Being recognized members of the church, Hector’s crime caused a major blow to the congregation. Pastor Brandon said he felt hurt and betrayed by Hector but also understood his actions were driven by his addiction.
He was encouraged to hear that Hector was going to continue drug treatment after he got out at an inpatient rehabilitation facility near his children. Breaking down in tears, Pastor Brandon begged Hector to forgive him for breaking his promise to visit him in prison and not having done so before now. Mediation gave Pastor Brandon and Hector the forum to ask for and to receive mutual forgiveness. Both men made plans about how to they would stay in contact after Hector was released.
In and out of prison for most of his adult life, Malik had been locked up this time for 15 years, and now at the age of 45, he was terrified to go home not having a clue how to acclimate to life on the outside. He hoped that his mother, Martha, might be able to help him. Describing her son as willful and determined, she said he was a born leader who could have been President of the United States if he had put his mind to it.
Despite her best efforts to keep him on the right track, Martha was a single mother who worked during the day and took college classes at night, relying on her mother to watch Malik. By the time he was 16 Malik was a gang member doing his first stint in prison for attempted murder. Although she loved her son, Martha was ashamed of his criminal background and had not spoken to him in years. Telling Martha he knew he said it before, this time he wanted things to be different when he got out. Despite her misgivings, Martha agreed to give Malik a chance.
Having worked in social services, Martha was knowledgeable about the resources available to Malik for housing, healthcare, transportation, food assistance, and other support programs and was able to get services set up prior to Malik’s release. Malik and Martha thought that mediation provided a supportive environment for them to communicate and make decisions without feeling judged.
Thurman was introduced to reentry mediation while attending a presentation at the prison. When asked if he was interested in opening up a case, he replied, “I’m good, I have no challenges or concerns about going home. I’m really good”. Ready to leave with a brochure in his hand and go back to his cell, Thurman paused and said that while he thought that he really did not have conflicts with anyone at home, his family may think otherwise and decided he would give mediation a try.
Sherry, his soon-to-be-ex-wife, desired peace in her life and wanted to make it clear to Thurman that despite what he may believe, there was no chance of them reconciling. Sherry felt deceived by Thurman in past communication when he failed to live up to promises he made to stay out of prison. She felt abandoned by him in their marriage due to his repeat offenses, and filed for divorce after he began serving his fourth sentence.
In mediation, Sherry said that she had no resentment towards Thurman and wanted him to be involved in their teenage daughters’ lives. Thurman was shocked to learn that Sherry did not want to work things out, as letters from his daughters led him to believe he may have had a chance. With the help of the mediators, Sherry and Thurman made plans to finalize their divorce, and they came up with an agreement about when their daughters would spend time with Thurman once he got out.
As a child, Chaz had been close with his mother and younger sister, Samantha. Soon after his mother got involved with his step-father, she became addicted to drugs and alcohol, contracted HIV, and died young. Chaz and Samantha had never been close with their step-father and considered him responsible for their mother’s situation. Samantha and Chaz became rebellious in their teens and Chaz became involved in gangs. Chaz had been incarcerated for a long sentence after many years of criminal activity, when he was introduced to the possibility of mediation.
Chaz wanted to use mediation to reach out to Samantha. Samantha worked part-time, and went to college, but lately, Chaz had been getting letters from Samantha that made him worried about her behavior. Chaz’s mission was to prevent Samantha from going down the same path he had.
In mediation, Chaz explained to Samantha how important it was for both of them to forgive their step-father for what happened in the past, and move onto concentrating on the future. He felt that she was young, bright, and beautiful, concerned that her anger could get her into trouble like his had gotten him into trouble. Samantha talked about how she did need to concentrate on the positive but unsure how to do that. In mediation, they made plans about the role faith and spirituality could play in their lives.
Stephanie had not seen her parents in a few months prior to mediation. Her father and stepmother had been supportive of her but the relationship had been rocky and tough to navigate. When all three came together for mediation, they had an opportunity to discuss Stephanie’s hopes and dreams for the future and how her family could help her get there, which included becoming a larger part in her children’s lives.
Stephanie’s parents had a chance to discuss the hurt and pain they felt about Stephanie becoming incarcerated, as well as the fear of Stephanie falling back into the same lifestyle that led her to prison. The family was able to develop solutions for what it would look like for Stephanie to live with her parents and create a plan for Stephanie’s employment, education, and substance abuse recovery. Although the conversation started with fear and trepidation, it ended with a sense of hope and specific plans for the future.
Frank had been estranged from his father for about fifteen years and had been incarcerated for ten. When Frank’s father was notified of his son’s request for mediation he was shocked. He had not expected his son to reach out to him and was very eager to utilize the opportunity.
The two men met for three mediation sessions. The first mediation was filled with the hurt and pain each expressed for their history. Frank and his father seemed very uncomfortable with the discussion as Frank expressed his deep disappointment he felt by his father’s absenteeism.
Frank’s father seemed to not accept these criticisms, yet by the end of the session a shared understanding had developed. In the second session, both men expressed the desire to build their relationship and find ways that Frank’s father could be involved in his life. In the third session, the men developed specific plans for how Frank and his father were going to move forward.
Frank’s father was going to use his contacts to find his son employment opportunities in his field. Also, Frank’s father had found him a place to live and the two were able to work out specific details about the new living arrangement. Through the process, a connection was developed between a father and son that had not existed before.
Kevin and his mom were very close. Despite this closeness, Kevin needed a separate forum than the visiting room to have a deep and detailed conversation with his mother. As the conversation started, Kevin and his mother became incredibly emotional as they explored the realities of his incarceration and how it impacted the family.
Kevin’s family really needed him at home and this hurt Kevin very deeply. Mother and son were able to unpack what really happened that led him to prison and how they could keep it from happening again. It turned out to be a very emotional process for both, but by the end they each felt stronger about their relationship and about what they were going to do moving forward.
Faith and her family had a very troubled history. Between substance abuse, theft, protective orders, and general dysfunction, the family had experienced a significant amount of difficult situations. Getting the entire family together was difficult, but eventually everyone met and were are able to discuss what happened and how it had impacted the family.
Everyone was able to speak about how Faith’s behavior affected them and Faith got a chance to discuss what she needed for a successful release. The discussion was difficult and at times extremely painful but everyone recognized the need for the conversation.
Faith expressed the kind of support she needed from her family to stay on the “right” path. The family was able to communicate the level of disappointment they had experienced and Faith agreed to specific actions that would help avert similar problems in the future. Overall, the family was able to take a difficult conversation and turn it into an opportunity to strengthen their relationship.
Shantee and her sister Sharika had a very close relationship prior to Shantee’s incarceration. Sharika had been taking care of Shantee’s children while Shantee was locked up and this put a serious strain on their relationship. Shantee, Sharika, and their mother attended mediation to talk about their collective futures.
The three women discussed what had led them into the current situation and specifically how taking care of Shantee’s children has affected Sharika’s life. The three also addressed how Shantee would become involved in the children’s life once she got out of the institution, considering the delicate nature of her relationship with the children. Although the conversation proved challenging, the participants were able to work out a solid plan for the future and strengthen their relationship in general.
Valerie invited her two daughters Claire and Jamie to mediation. Valerie’s drug addiction had impacted her daughters for many years, and mediation was an opportunity for each person to express the harm it had caused them. The mediation was difficult, challenging, and powerful as each daughter identified what they had gone through caring for their mother in the past. It was the first opportunity the family had to be open and honest with each other and own up to the past.
The mediation ended with all three having a clear expectation and understanding of what the girls could do to support the mother’s recovery and established clear boundaries for Valerie as she returned home.
Lily was incarcerated for prostitution. She had resorted to prostitution as a way to pay for her husband’s drug addiction. While incarcerated, Lily’s mother and sister had been taking care of her daughter. When all three came together for mediation, Lily’s sister and mother explained how they would welcome Lily back with open arms as long as her ex-husband was not in the picture.
Lily was able to have an open and honest conversation about her fear that without the support of her family she would end up back with her husband. They all acknowledged at the end of mediation that without the mediation process, they would have had a big fight and Lily may have returned to her husband.