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Policy and Program Notes: CSG Justice Center creates database of reentry programs for mentally ill and other offenders

Last summer, the New York City-based Council of State Governments Justice Center launched an online Reentry Programs Database, which was designed "to catalogue adult and juvenile programs nationwide that work to make individuals' return to communities from prisons, jails, and juvenile corrections facilities safer and more successful."

Funding-source officials issued statements at the time that suggested the context and content of this potentially helpful new resource:

Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) director Bernard K. Melekian: "Every day, ex-offenders return to communities in need of programs and resources that support the challenges associated with reentry. Now, service providers throughout the country will have access to a database of programs that will help those seeking services achieve their full potential."

Former acting Bureau of Justice Statistics director James H. Burch, II: "As BJA provides $100 million in funding to state, local, and tribal communities for reentry programs through the Second Chance Act, it is essential that these communities know about the strategies in use in other parts of the nation, to facilitate a peer-to-peer learning network so that we have the ability to learn from each other's best practices. That is exactly why BJA has supported this project."

Justice Center board member Dr. Frank Straub, who is also Indianapolis' director of public safety: "The unveiling of the Justice Center's Reentry Programs Database marks the first effort to create a national clearinghouse of promising reentry initiatives. This new resource will better inform policymakers and practitioners as they implement policies and programs designed to support stronger families and communities and increase public safety."

Good so far, but what can service providers, program designers, policymakers, and others actually find in this database?

The Reentry Programs Database highlights self-reported information from "innovative" programs ranging from community-based efforts to statewide initiatives that have implemented practices and policies to facilitate "successful" offender reentry. The database was developed "to promote peer-to-peer exchanges, highlight progress in the field, and help people returning home and their families to connect with local programs that can facilitate reentry."

Overall, the Reentry Programs Database has several "user-friendly" database features:

  • Unlimited profiles. Individual programs and initiatives can create multiple profiles by completing an online survey that gathers information on target populations, services, program activities, and data-collection efforts.
  • Multiple search capabilities. Users can target specific programs or particular types of programs, and they can search by state or by topic area. Topic areas include information on employment, housing, mental health, law enforcement, substance abuse, juveniles, families, and mentoring.
  • Resources. Database entries include links to relevant brochures, media or newsletter articles, referral forms, issue papers, research evaluations, and even practice manuals.

 Three months after the Reentry Program Database's launch, a review of those entries related to mental health programming shows the following:

  •  Entries for 28 programs in 19 states;
  • Each entry contains a brief paragraph-long description of its services and objectives;
  • Each entry contains topics such as program name, organizational name, year established, program focus, population served, and selected program-related attachments;
  • Substantive links to program-related resources were found in 8 of the 28 states; and
  • Links were provided to program brochures for 4 entries and 6 entries each make available at least 1 other resource, such as a newsletter, news article, referral form, analytic overview, mentor manual, or research evaluation.

For some reasons, programs tend to self-report the barest, broadest information about their operations. They do themselves a disservice in the process. These entries would be more helpful if CSG staff members were to seek out, and program staff members were to self-report, more detailed information. At the simplest level, no information was given on how to contact particular programs or initiatives. More importantly, one assumes that a program will report any evaluations of its services, but this is not necessarily the case. In an era of evidence-based practices, one takes keen interest in the fact that only one program listed in this database currently reports an evaluation of its services. Were others done and not reported for some reason? Minimally, program entries should include information affirming whether or not an evaluation has been conducted, reported, and/ or written up.

Another problem is that some information is simply not very helpful. Simple matters such as a program's name, its organizational base, and even the year it started up its services are modestly helpful. However, how useful is it, when programs suggest that their target population is pretty much everybody referred to them. One program, for example, listed 10 target groups, which included (in no particular order): men; women; offenders who have committed non-violent offenses; offenders who have committed violent offenses; and offenders who are on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole. Who's left? This description suggests the program accepts anyone who comes along, without regard to the program's specific goals and objectives or its capacity to deliver specific forms of service.

 In terms of mental health programming, entries typically listed the terms "mental health" or "mental illness" in either its brief description or in the list of topic areas covered. No mention is given of the specificity of particular program initiatives. What types of interventions are involved? What are staff trained to do? Do programs provide across-the-board services, or do they focus on one modality or another?

 The Reentry Programs Database can be accessed at

Posted Fri, Mar 11 2011 4:13 PM by Tracey Vessels


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This blog is funded by a contract from the National Institute of Corrections, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view or opinions stated in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.