With incarceration rates in the United States continuing to rise, nonprofits must do everything they can to help justice-involved individuals successfully reenter the community. These individuals face several barriers once released, such as a lack of access to housing and mental health services. Without these services or a network of encouragement or support, the likelihood of recidivism increases. This is where the intersection of technology and prisoner reentry programs come into play.
While experience and gut instinct give nonprofits a rough idea of how their programs stack up, technology provides quantitative proof. It gives organizations the objective answers they need to tailor services to justice-involved individuals.
Here’s how technology can help your prisoner reentry programs be more successful.
LESS EMPLOYEE BURNOUT. MORE TIME IN THE FIELD.
It’s not uncommon in prisoner reentry programs for one case worker to be responsible for assisting 20 recently incarcerated individuals. Let’s say a case worker is trying to find all 20 individuals a job in a month. Even with a program like Excel, it still requires manually tracking 20 individuals’ unique situations. For example, do they have any existing job experience? Did they commit an offence that prohibits them from working in a certain profession? Keeping track of these answers is crucial. But doing so manually is an inefficient practice. What’s more, it places unnecessary mental stress on the case worker and takes time away from interactions that establish trust. Stress and working overtime can negatively affect decision-making. When dealing with other people’s lives, a poor decision can have a profound impact.
Technology helps to ease some of this stress. Digital case management systems often automate back-office tasks that detract from more important work. Instead of stressing about data entry, case workers can help constituents reacclimate to, and get involved with, their communities. For example, encouraging participants to start a weekly meeting with other justice-involved individuals or suggesting they pick up a new hobby. Technology frees case workers from administrative work and gives them more time to spend in the field. And giving justice-involved individuals that additional face time sends a positive message. It lets participants know that you’re committed to helping them reenter the community successfully.
BETTER WRAPAROUND SERVICES
The best prisoner reentry programs are built to serve the needs of participants. Providing wraparound services – additional services like access to housing or interview training – helps to ensure the success of programs (and constituents). With the help of technology, nonprofits can offer more comprehensive wraparound support and be more precise when tailoring their services.
Additional Prisoner Reentry Support:
Job Preparation Services
By using software to collect and store participant information, nonprofits can provide more targeted job preparation services. For example, your data shows that 15 out of 20 participants completed an interview-preparation class for justice-involved individuals. It also shows that the five participants who did not complete the course have learning difficulties. Upon seeing the correlation, you decide to hold a separate, smaller course for those five participants with a slower pace of the curriculum. Finally, with less students in the course, each participant gets more individualized attention. Ultimately, this pivot in strategy leads to a 100 percent completion rate. Data tells us stories, and if we want to help participants, we must listen.
The transition from incarceration to community life can be challenging. In particular, restrictions and parole conditions can make finding housing, and prisoner reentry in general, more difficult. Sometimes, an individual is not permitted to live with family members if they have also been convicted of a crime. Other times they were homeless prior to incarceration and still have no home upon being released. A technology-driven wraparound service can help these individuals find a safe place to call their own.
Case management tools that provide needs assessment help locate appropriate housing options more efficiently. Instead of a case worker manually conducting analysis, technology can aggregate the participant’s data within the software. Eventually, the software will be able to make data-driven recommendations. Meaning, based on a particular individual’s situation, the software will determine the best course of action the case worker should take to suit this person’s needs. The benefits of this are two-fold. One, it reduces the amount manual work a case worker has to do. Two, it reduces the likelihood of a participant returning to a life of homelessness and, most likely, crime.
PRISONER REENTRY: A CHANCE TO BE PART OF THE SOLUTION
Technology gives nonprofits more insight and a deeper understanding of participants than ever before. Compassion and years of experience are irreplaceable. But when paired with technology, they allow nonprofits to provide more holistic reentry services that give participants the greatest possible chance of reintegrating into the community successfully.