Relationships get us through our most difficult times in life. Friends and family members are important, of course, but sometimes our relationships with people through organizations play an important role. If you’ve ever had a church or civic organization help you through a tough time or relied on your relationship with a trusted professional to navigate the healthcare system during a medical crisis, you know what I mean.
Such relationships are often referred to as positive networks of support. These networks can include family members, friends, peer supports, treatment professionals, service providers, mentors, etc.
Often, for people who are entering society after a period of incarceration, positive networks of support are a component to successful reintegration. Returning to the community can be jarring and difficult, and individuals releasing from detention centers, jails, and prisons face a long list of collateral consequences that can undermine their chances of success. It is their relationships that can help them to make the transition, overcome obstacles and reestablish their lives.
Establishing a Behavioral Health Relationship
The American correctional system is the largest provider of mental health services in the country. More people with mental health disorders are incarcerated than are receiving treatment in the nation’s psychiatric hospitals. Unsurprisingly, the majority of people in detention centers, prisons, and jails have a substance use disorder.
An incarcerated individual who has a mental health or substance use disorder should try to develop a therapeutic relationship with a behavioral health provider before release. The Council of State Governments’ National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC) recommends in-reach by community-based behavioral health treatment providers. As the center’s fact sheet, Best Practices for Successful Reentry for People Who Have Opioid Addictions, explains, “This in-reach is useful in building a rapport with people leaving incarceration and helps ensure that treatment continues seamlessly as they move from the correctional facility to the community.” NRRC recommends that the development of a therapeutic relationship with a behavioral health provider be developed as part of a Collaborative Comprehensive Case Plan.
Finding a Mentor
Many community and religious organizations provide mentoring services to adults reentering the community from correctional facilities . As NCCR’s report, Mentoring as a Component of Reentry: Practical Considerations from the Field, says, “Mentoring is often thought to provide prosocial benefits, including access to a reliable listener and association with someone who is outside of one’s existing social network.”
This positive effect is stronger when the mentor is a peer—that is, a person who also was formerly incarcerated. Peer mentors are often utilized following an individual’s release into the community and should be compliant with the requirements of a person’s releasing conditions.
The NCCR report explains further the benefits of peer mentorship:
Even in communities where there are a multitude of reentry services available, peer mentoring can offer a unique type of support that is not provided by other services or traditional mentoring practices. Because of their shared experiences of incarceration, peer mentors and participants can reach a level of understanding that would not otherwise be possible with mentors who do not have that experience. Participants might be more apt to trust and accept direction from peers who have lived through the incarceration and reentry process.
Reestablishing Positive Networks of Support
For some individuals reentering society, their relationships may have been severely damaged either by the original criminal offense or the time apart. Encouraging individuals releasing from a custodial facility to think about how to re-engage or develop positive networks of support should start months before release. An individual’s social support network can aid their reentry by providing housing, transportation, child care and perhaps employment opportunities.
In many situations, family is a positive source of support upon a person’s release. A study by the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center of individuals in Baltimore who were reentering society found 82% of those interviewed said their family’s support, both emotional and financial, was what they had hoped for upon their release.
Some corrections facilities include parent training in their prerelease programs. A strong, positive relationship with a child can be a powerful motivator.
For example, Parenting Inside Out (PIO) is “an evidence-based parenting skills training program developed for criminal-justice-involved parents.” According to the program’s website, a study conducted by the Oregon Social Learning Center found that PIO participants in the study had lower recidivism rates, better parental participation and substantially less substance abuse compared to a control group of their peers.
In situations where relationships with family are not feasible, other positive networks of support should be established. Helping individuals returning to the community from a custodial environment connect with people who can offer support is crucial to helping them be successful.
Our relationships are often what motivate us to change and help us to continue on the right path even when it’s difficult. With more than 600,000 people being released from state and federal correctional facilities, perhaps the most impactful thing those working with individuals preparing for release can do to lower recidivism and increase public safety is support programs that help people build and strengthen relationships before their release.