The short– and long–term success of community reintegration is,
in large part, a function of careful and informed transition and release planning
that takes into account the resources and supports necessary to facilitate
reductions in recidivism and positive outcomes for sex offenders (Bumby et
al., in press; Marshall et al., 2006).
During the transition phase, several elements require dedicated attention in order to maximize the potential for adult and juvenile sex offenders to reintegrate successfully, including the following (see, e.g., Bumby et al., in press; CSOM, 2007; Cumming & McGrath, 2000, 2005; Marshall et al., 2006; Spencer, 1999):
- Continuity of care, both in terms of sex offense–specific treatment and other ongoing intervention needs;
- Community support networks;
- Appropriate housing or placement;
- Educational and/or employment needs; and
- Family interests and needs, including reunification, when appropriate.
Ideally, the formal transition phase begins three to six months in advance of the anticipated release date (Cumming & McGrath, 2000). Oftentimes, the transition process is coordinated by an institutional caseworker or facility case manager whose responsibilities include working closely with the offender and collaborating with various stakeholders within and outside of the facility (e.g., institutional sex offender treatment providers, mental health/medical staff members, community supervision officers) as the individual approaches release.
To the extent possible, the caseworkers responsible for managing the transition phase should be matched with sex offenders shortly after their arrival at the correctional or juvenile justice facility, so that they are familiar with the offenders, the family circumstances, other sources of community support, program participation/refusals, intervention needs, and overall adjustment. As such, they are less likely to encounter potential reentry barriers at the “last minute.” And under even more ideal circumstances, the supervision officer who will be responsible for post–release management of the offender is assigned to the case prior to the offender’s release.
A seamless transition by adult and juvenile sex offenders from institutions/facilities to the community is contingent upon ensuring that interventions to address critical needs continue post–release without unnecessary interruptions. Again, research indicates that reentry efforts are most successful when facility–based programs and services are linked to parallel programs and services in the community (see, e.g., Altschuler & Armstrong, 1996; Petersilia, 2003; Seiter & Kadela, 2003). Included among the specific needs that should be taken into account specifically with respect to continuity of care are the following:
- Sex Offense–Specific Treatment—For adult and juvenile sex offenders who are receiving offense–specific prison– or facility–based treatment, ensuring continuity of care is contingent upon the use of a common, research–supported treatment model in facilities and the community, a commitment to collaboration and information–sharing between clinicians in the two settings, and the use of common sex offender–specific assessments to guide treatment planning during the formal transition to the community (Bumby et al., in press; CSOM, 2007; Marshall et al., 2006). Ideally, assignment to community treatment providers and the scheduling of first appointments occur before release to prevent service delivery gaps during the transition phase (see, e.g., Cumming & McGrath, 2000). When these strategies are employed, sex offenders enter community–based treatment and are able to build upon the progress made prior to release from the facility. This is in contrast to systems in which, post–release, sex offenders have to “start at square one” with the community–based treatment provider, either because no documentation was received from the releasing facility, because of a lack of confidence in the services provided in the facility, or because the program models and philosophies are not complementary.
- Mental Health and Healthcare Services– To promote overall wellness through transition and community reintegration, residential and institutional facility protocols should outline a process that formally addresses mental health and healthcare needs as a part of the release plan. If such needs have been identified, appropriate referrals and links to community–based resources with qualified professionals should be made well in advance of release, and case managers should assist offenders with determining the transition to private insurance or, when finances are a concern, government subsidized health coverage and referrals to local health departments. If medications are involved, patient education (which includes parents when juveniles are being released) should focus on the importance of routine follow–ups with community–based providers, medication compliance issues, and the risks that may be associated with abrupt cessation. This is particularly important if, during the transition planning process, the offender (or parent) clearly indicates that they no longer wish to take the medication. If the decision is made to terminate the use of medication, it should be done while under the care of qualified health care professionals prior to release, or post–release if a provider has been identified.
- Substance Abuse Treatment– Because substance abuse is a risk factor associated with risk for recidivism for sex offenders under community supervision (Hanson & Harris, 2000), it is particularly important that continuity in treatment is addressed during the transition phase. Ideally, offenders have been involved in prison– or facility–based substance abuse treatment, and subsequently linked to a similar treatment program in the community. Along this vein, sex offenders who participated in support groups (e.g., AA/NA) in facilities should receive assistance with identifying groups in the returning community, including the meeting dates, times, and locations, such that upon release, they are immediately able to access them.
- Educational Services—For juvenile sex offenders in particular, making
provisions for the return to school post–release requires dedicated
attention during the release planning
process. As such, it is important that juveniles, parents, case managers, and other relevant staff (e.g., facility educators, community supervision officers) work closely with the receiving schools to facilitate reenrollment prior to release. This also requires that education staff members within facilities take steps to ensure the transfer to community schools of credits earned while participating in facility–based schools.
In some circumstances, legislation or school board policies prohibit the return of certain justice–involved youth (e.g., juvenile sex offenders) to public schools. Furthermore, community notification procedures may be applicable to some youth which require that the school is made aware of juveniles’ sex offense histories. This has the potential to fuel negative sentiment among teachers, peers, and parents of other students if not managed carefully (e.g., on a “need to know” basis). Therefore, during the transition phase, practitioners should remain acutely aware of these types of barriers to the transition back to school, such that alternative educational plans (e.g., day treatment, alternative schools, GED) can be put into place prior to release and disruptions in attendance are prevented. (For more information about working with schools, see the Supervision section of this protocol.)
A key to ensuring a seamless transition of sex offenders to the community is the identification of local resources that can be used to address the various needs that may exist. However, it is unlikely that any single case manager or supervision officer will be fully aware of each of the programs and services in a given community. In an attempt to address this issue, many jurisdictions have developed resource inventories that describe briefly the programs and services that are available locally to address the rehabilitative and other needs of sex offenders and their family members. When comprehensive and up–to–date, resource directories can be invaluable to adult and juvenile sex offenders and their families, case managers both within and outside of facilities, and community supervision officers as a means of facilitating continuity of services, which ultimately increases the likelihood of successful reentry.
In the final days approaching release, the institutional/facility caseworker should assume responsibility for the development of a discharge report that summarizes and provides final documentation of the following key issues:
- Overall adjustment within the institution or facility;
- Participation in treatment and educational services, or refusals;
- Ongoing and anticipated needs;
- Current level of risk; and
- The final release plan, which addresses residence/placement, school or employment (as applicable), registration and notification requirements, and special conditions.
In addition to maintaining the discharge summary in the released offender’s file, the caseworker should be responsible for ensuring that the summary, along with other critical documentation, is shared with the professionals involved in the reentry process and community management.
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