Section 6: Reentry
3 Hours

Lecture Topic TOPIC: REENTRY

Use SlideUse Slides #9–11: Insufficient Reentry and Aftercare Planning
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Insufficient Reentry and Aftercare Planning

If getting into a residential or institutional facility is fairly easy for juvenile sex offenders, then getting out can be equally or more difficult. Compared to most other types of youthful offenders, we know that sexual abusers typically spend more time in placements.16 One reason for this is a lack of or insufficient reentry and aftercare planning.

In the absence of a clear and comprehensive plan that clarifies what will be done with each youth, when services will be provided, and who is responsible for what, there can be a tendency to simply assume that the “more” we provide to them while they’re in custody and the “longer” we keep them, the better off they’ll be. As a result, if there’s no plan that outlines an alternative course of action, residential or institutional treatment programs and providers may want to hold on to these juveniles for as long as possible. Because of the nature of their offenses, it usually isn’t difficult to convince case managers and others of the need to keep them “in” either.

In addition, none of us got into the business of working with juvenile delinquents—and sex offenders more specifically—for the recognition, and the great pay and wonderful benefits, right? It seems that most people do this work because they possess a genuine interest in working with these kids and their families, and contributing to community safety. And so in some places, in the absence of a plan about how transition and aftercare will move forward, the well–intentioned desire of institutional or residential staff members can be to work with these juveniles until all of their needs and issues have been addressed. In most cases, however, it’s not realistic or possible to do this—and attempts to do so can be counter–productive.

For example, the longer that a juvenile sex offender remains in an out–of–home placement and detached from positive community supports and productive involvement in prosocial activities, the more likely he is to experience difficulties transitioning back to the community.17 Once pro–social family, peer, and community connections have been disrupted or lost all together, it’s not always easy to reestablish them.18

In addition and as mentioned a moment ago, we have to remember the potential for negative outcomes where youth are placed together for the purpose of intervention.19 There’s some pretty compelling research out there on this. That is, putting juvenile offenders together may, in some circumstances, increase their delinquency because of the negative impact of their peers. In other words, despite our best intentions and efforts—which may include intensive treatment—the powerful influences of these juveniles’ peers can mitigate the positive effects of the services and interventions that we provide. This results in poorer outcomes that are contrary to our expectations.20 So long–term placement can have the very opposite of the intended effect, in that it may actually increase the likelihood that juveniles will re–offend after they are released to the community.

A lack of reentry and aftercare planning—and keeping youth “in” for too long as a result—may also lead to them “maxing out” their time and being released or discharged from placement with no supervision and aftercare programming to promote their stability in the community and adjustment to more independent living. Simply releasing them with a “good bye, good luck, and stay out of trouble” doesn’t serve their needs, their families’ needs, or—most importantly—the safety needs of victims, potential victims, and the community.

In some cases, a lack of attention to planning may also lead to juvenile sex offenders being released to a very low level of structure and supervision, with no gradual reduction in aftercare services and support. So they don’t “max out,” but they don’t get very much when they step back into the community. This “all to (almost) nothing” approach doesn’t work particularly well either for the same reasons we just discussed. It doesn’t provide youth with an opportunity to adjust to the lack of restrictions and much more limited structure associated with living in the community.

Insufficient planning may also prevent the early identification of needs and barriers that impede or prevent successful reentry and aftercare. This can cause additional delays in the reentry process, as these concerns arise unexpectedly or at the last minute, and those who are working with these juveniles are required to take the time necessary to address and solve them. In a sense then, one could argue that by not being proactive and getting clear early about the needs that these youth have and the barriers associated with their return to the community, we’re further—and unnecessarily—punishing them. The delays that result are our fault—and not a reflection of the youth.

Use SlideUse Slides #12–13: Fragmentation Across the System
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Fragmentation Across the System

The third common challenge that negatively impacts reentry and aftercare efforts with these youth is the fragmentation that often exists across the juvenile justice system. Unfortunately, the design of the system naturally establishes a residential or institutional dimension and community dimension that can be mutually exclusive of one another.21 And therefore, those who are responsible for working with these youth in one of the dimensions haven’t traditionally had—and don’t necessarily proactively pursue—opportunities to sit down and work together with their colleagues in other settings or agencies.22

So juvenile sex offender reentry (and offender reentry in general) has tended to be viewed in many places with an “in” or “out” point–of–view. When those who provide services to these youth on the inside—in residential or institutional settings—don’t work closely and productively with stakeholders in the community (and vice versa) to promote and support successful reentry and aftercare, roles and responsibilities related to reentry and aftercare become fragmented and duplicative. This, in turn, reduces the efficiency and effectiveness of the larger system, and no one benefits—not victims, our communities, these youthful offenders, or their families.

For example, there are many treatment providers across the country who are delivering excellent specialized clinical services to youthful sex offenders, both in secure institutions and residential facilities, and in the community. However, the impact of these services isn’t always maximized because they might be delivered in isolation of one another. That is, providers on the inside may not “reach out” to their colleagues in the community to determine—in a collaborative fashion—the treatment needs that should be addressed immediately in the residential or institutional setting, and what can be put off until community–based treatment.

This “in” or “out” approach can create an unnecessary burden on residential and institutional providers, as they spend their limited time and resources focusing on issues that could be addressed after the youth’s release in the community.

Similarly, providers on the outside may not “reach in” to make sure that the interventions they plan and deliver are informed by—and build upon—the progress that has been made previously while the youth was in placement. This may result in an inefficient use of time and resources, as community providers repeat the work already accomplished in placements.

Similar problems can occur for other stakeholders involved in the reentry and aftercare process, such as institutional or residential case managers or workers, and juvenile parole officers. Case managers or workers may not “reach out” to parole officers and other community–based providers, programs, and resources to assure that the multiple needs of these youth (for example, mental health, health, educational and vocational, and family stability) will be sufficiently addressed as the reentry and aftercare process proceeds. And juvenile parole officers may not “reach in” to collect information about the juveniles they will be supervising so that they can familiarize themselves with the unique circumstances of every case, begin to develop community management strategies, and facilitate access to needed community services and supports prior to transition.

So there are jurisdictions out there that are struggling with a number of pretty significant challenges related to juvenile sex offender reentry and aftercare, including an over–reliance on the most restrictive placements for these youth, insufficient planning, and fragmentation. All of these issues have consequences which can adversely impact our efforts to promote community safety and assist these youth to return to our communities to live healthy, pro–social, and crime–free lives.

Fortunately, there are a number of viable responses and potential solutions to each of these challenges that are emerging in the professional literature, and in policy and practice innovations in a number of places across the nation. Let’s talk now about how these problems can be constructively addressed, starting with an over–reliance on the most restrictive placements.

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