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Focus Area: Case Management and Comprehensive Programs

Individuals returning to the community from correctional facilities have significant and diverse needs that range from securing safe and affordable housing to identifying viable employment opportunities and accessing substance abuse or mental health treatment. Many of them have lost ties with those in the community during their period of incarceration and require a carefully coordinated bridge from facility to community in order to successfully reintegrate into society. Recognizing that these individuals typically present with multiple needs, agencies and organizations across the country have developed programs that take a comprehensive approach to reentry and offer or connect individuals to a wide range of treatment and services both in prison or jail and in the community post-release.

This section provides an overview and examination of key evaluative research of comprehensive and case management programs. Each of the programs in this collection takes a comprehensive approach to improving outcomes for those returning from jail and prison. These programs provide or link participants to a broad array of services including educational development, employment preparation and skills, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and housing assistance. Many of these programs involve coordination across multiple agencies to ensure a smooth transition from correctional settings back to the community. A number of them are centered around a case management model in which case managers are tasked with developing reentry plans and coordinating treatment both within the facility and in the community post-release.

From a thorough review of the literature, researchers identified 65 reentry studies that examined the impact of comprehensive and case management programs on recidivism, employment, substance abuse and/or housing outcomes. Of these studies, 18 met the evidentiary criteria for inclusion. Half of these studies met the Clearinghouse requirements for designation as a high level of methodological rigor and half were categorized as basic rigor.

What the Research Says About Comprehensive and Case Management Programs

The findings across all comprehensive and case management programs are mixed. Eleven of the 18 evaluations found some evidence of a beneficial impact of program participation on core outcomes suggesting that targeted, comprehensive reentry programs can improve outcomes for individuals returning from incarceration. Two evaluations found that program participation was associated with an increase in recidivism while the remaining five found no evidence of an effect. Only five programs looked at outcomes other than recidivism. Of those, four looked at employment, two looked at substance abuse, and one looked at housing outcomes.

Multiservice Reentry Programs: While each of the programs in this focus area provided an array of services, four programs were categorized solely as multiservice reentry programs: ComALERT, California’s Preventing Parolee Crime (PPC), Pennsylvania’s Community Orientation and Reentegration (COR) Program, and Ready, Willing and Able (RWA). Overall, findings suggest that these comprehensive programs can be effective in reducing recidivism. Three of the four evaluations found strong evidence of a beneficial impact on recidivism. Though there were no significant differences between groups on reincarceration, participants in ComALERT were 26% less likely to be rearrested and 26% less likely to be reconvicted than individuals in the comparison group. For those who participated in PPC , the rate of reincarceration was eight percentage points lower than those in the comparison group. Finally, RWA participants were significantly less likely than their counterparts in the control group to be rearrested, reconvicted, and resentenced to jail. Further, cost benefit analyses of both PPC and RWA determined that the programs generated net savings. In contrast, an evaluation of Pennsylvania’s COR program found no effect overall on recidivism or reentry outcomes.

SVORI Programs: In 2003, the U.S Departments of Justice, Labor, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services funded the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) which aimed to improve successful reentry for individuals leaving correctional facilities. The collaborative federal initiative provided resources to 69 grantees in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands to develop or expand integrated programs offering services to juveniles and adults at high risk of recidivating in their communities. SVORI supported system-level change by requiring cross-agency collaboration and centered program services around a case management model. The initiative intentionally gave sites significant flexibility to design and implement programs targeted to the specific needs of their reentering populations. As a result, implementation varied significantly by site but generally focused on addressing criminal justice, employment, education, health, mental health and/or housing outcomes.

Five studies of SVORI programs met the criteria for inclusion in the Clearinghouse: the national evaluation examining outcomes across 16 sites, and four site-specific studies that evaluated the impact of SVORI programs in North Dakota, Minnesota, and an unnamed Midwestern state. Findings across these multiple evaluations are mixed. The national evaluation was the most comprehensive and rigorous, but it revealed mixed findings across outcomes for the three populations it studied: adult males, adult females, and juvenile males. Overall, findings from the national evaluation suggested that participation in SVORI was not associated with improved housing or substance abuse outcomes for any of the three groups. There was modest evidence of a beneficial impact of SVORI on employment outcomes but only for adult females. Finally, there was some evidence of a beneficial impact of SVORI programming on recidivism across the three groups.

While the national evaluation pointed to evidence of effectiveness in reducing recidivism, it is important to note a few limitations. The 16 sites selected for evaluation were purposively chosen in part because they had the best chance of successful implementation and therefore were not necessarily representative of the full population of 89 SVORI programs. Further, by design, the initiative provided broad parameters but allowed individual sites flexibility in designing interventions. As a result, SVORI sites included a wide range of programs that different in their combination of interventions, correctional philosophies and quality of implementation. The national evaluation, given the breadth of programs it examines, was unable to evaluate any particular variation on the SVORI model.

Four studies of site-specific SVORI programs met criteria for inclusion and provided a deeper look at unique programs. Findings across these studies were similarly mixed. Two evaluations found evidence of a beneficial impact of program participation on recidivism outcomes. An evaluation of the SVORI program in Cass County, North Dakota found that SVORI participants were 60% less likely to be arrested than their counterparts in the comparison group. Additionally, an evaluation of a SVORI program in an unnamed Midwestern state found that although there were no differences between groups in returns to prison, the hazard of incurring a new conviction was 55% lower for SVORI participants than those in the comparison group. In contrast, an evaluation of Minnesota’s SOAR program found no evidence of an impact on recidivism though the researchers noted that SOAR was not implemented with fidelity the program. Further, a separate evaluation of another program in an unnamed Midwestern state actually found some evidence of a harmful impact. Program participants returned to prison sooner and at a higher rate than those in the comparison group, though participants were less likely than those in the comparison group to experience a new conviction. Looking across all of the SVORI findings, though mixed, results do suggest that in some cases, well-designed, comprehensive reentry programs can improve outcomes for individuals returning from incarceration

Correctional Faith-Based Programs: Three faith-based programs met the criteria for inclusion and provided some evidence of effectiveness in reducing recidivism. Two of the three programs were rated at a high level of rigor and both found strong evidence of a beneficial effect on recidivism. The InnerChange Freedom Initiative in Minnesota reduced the risk of reoffending by 26% for rearrests, 35% for reconviction, and 40% for new offense reincarceration. Similarly, though recidivism for both groups was high, the rearrest rate for participants in the Boston Reentry Initiative was 31% lower than those in the control group. The third study of Florida’s Faith- and Character-Based Institutions (FCBIs) examined outcomes for both males and females and overall found no effect. Although men who resided in the FCBI were statistically significantly less likely to be reincarcerated at six months post release than those in the comparison group, this finding was not significant at the one year follow-up.

Case Management Programs: Findings across the seven case management programs included were mixed. Four of the seven studies met the criteria for high methodological rigor. Two studies found no effect of program participation on recidivism outcomes, one found strong evidence of a beneficial effect, and one found strong evidence of a harmful effect. The three studies rated as basic found modest and strong evidence of a beneficial impact on recidivism. Only one program – Opportunity to Succeed - examined outcomes other than recidivism and found modest evidence of a beneficial effect of participation on employment outcomes but no effect on recidivism or substance abuse outcomes.

Future Areas of Research

Additional research is needed to:

  • Evaluate the impacts of comprehensive and case management programs over time. The national SVORI evaluation found effects at 56 months that were not evident in analyses at 24 months. The majority of programs in this section only examined outcomes at one or two years post-release and were not able to evaluate longer-term impacts of these programs.
  • Examine the impact of programs on outcomes other than recidivism. Only five of the 17 studies evaluated substance abuse and/or employment outcomes. This was particularly striking given that each of these programs offered multiple services targeting a number of outcomes of interest.
  • Understand the cost-benefit implications of these programs. Only a handful of the programs in this collection included cost benefit analysis and additional work is greatly needed in this area.

Summary of Evaluations and Outcomes

Rigor Evaluation Recidivism Employment Substance Abuse
Basic Rigor Bouffard & Bergeron, 2006 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
High Rigor Duwe, & King, 2013 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Duwe, 2013; 2014 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
High Rigor Fisher, Mellow, & Saunders, 2008 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
High Rigor Grommon, Davidson II, & Bynum, 2013 (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor La Vigne, Brazzell, & Small, 2007 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Minnesota Department of Corrections, 2006 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Mulmat et al., 2009; Mulmat et al., 2010; Mulmat et al., 2012 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
High Rigor Multiple evaluations, 2004-2015
Basic Rigor Prendergast et al. 2011 (not evaluated)
High Rigor Rossman, Sridharan, & Buck, 1998; Rossman et al., 1999; Rossman & Roman, 2003
High Rigor Severson, Veeh, Bruns, & Lee, 2011; 2012 (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Sirois & Western 2010 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
High Rigor Smith & Suttle, 1998; La Vigne & Lawrence, 2002 (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Veeh, Severson, & Lee, 2015 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)

Programs