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Letter from the Editor: Supporting Returning Citizens

During the past thirty years, incarceration rates in the United States have increased more than sevenfold, and in 2019 2.3 million people were incarcerated, with strong associations between the rise of mass incarceration, institutional racism, and disenfranchisement.1   Returning citizens face many barriers to achieving employment and housing, making it difficult for them to reclaim their lives and independence, and often resulting in high re-arrest rates.2 To reduce recidivism, policymakers and nonprofits are devoting resources to ease the transition away from jail or prison, and are applying a holistic lens to program offerings to mitigate the factors that can cause someone to be re-arrested, including homelessness, joblessness and mental health.  

One piece of legislation passed to help reduce recidivism rates, the Second Chance Act, provides resources to support research on the topic of recidivism, and the development of new strategies. In 2016 and 2017 nearly half of U.S. governors placed re-arrest rates at the top of their priorities list during their State of the State addresses, highlighting a growing commitment to breaking the cycle of imprisonment for justice-involved individuals.3 

Community Development practitioners and their partners are critical to the successful implementation of these policies and programs, often building on their expertise and local knowledge to create tailored workforce and housing programs that meet the needs of returning citizens. Through comprehensive case management services, for example, providers can offer the financial, educational and skill-based counseling critically needed by individuals returning from incarceration. Often, counselors pair this work with advice on record expungement, education around clients’ rights, and a review of their credit history. In many cases, organizations are well-positioned to refer clients to employers, housing services, mental health specialists and other services as part of their own, or partners’, wrap-around offerings. These programs, which are designed with this population in mind, often include tools and strategies to keep participants engaged. 

In this Spotlight on Supporting Returning Citizens, we’ve highlighted resources to help Community Development practitioners understand the critical needs of returning citizens, as well as some strategies already underway to support them. Included in the roundup, readers will find a report from MDRC on the feasibility evaluation of the Bridges to Pathways (Bridges) program, which is a program for young men in Chicago who were involved with the criminal or juvenile justice system and lack a high school credential. We’ve also included news stories and publications exploring the challenges that returning citizens face in obtaining housing and employment. Lastly, you can find resources and references to some key organizations in this space, including The Fortune Society, and Vera Institute for Justice.


1 Alexander, M. (2012). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Western, B.(2006). Punishment and Inequality in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Vera Institute (2017) 

Berg, Mark T., Huebner, Beth M. Reentry and the Ties that Bind: An Examination of Social Ties, Employment, and Recidivism. Online: Justice Quarterly (2011)

3 Making People’s Transition from Prison and Jail to the Community Safe and Successful: A Snapshot of National Progress in Reentry. Online: CSG Justice Center (2017)