Five Ways Technology Can Help Break the Recidivism Cycle

By, Eric Beane

The U.S. has far and away the highest prison population in the world, with nearly 2.1 million people behind bars. Fueling the high rate of incarceration is an unprecedented recidivism rate, with seven out of ten individuals released from jail being rearrested within five years. Nearly half return to prison within five years, and perhaps most troubling, over 80% of those under age 25 are arrested within five years, setting up a pattern of re-offense at a young age.  

Across the board, experts agree one driver of recidivism in America is a lack of re-entry support once released. Without access to resources that enable a successful transition, justice-involved individuals face an uphill battle to find employment, housing, physical health services, behavioral health support and other basic resources.

In addition, the criminalization of mental health and substance use conditions contribute to these cycles of incarceration. Instead of sending individuals with behavioral health needs back to correctional facilities, it is critical that these folks have access to wraparound health and social care services that enable successful transitions into communities. 

Though many communities have relevant programs and social care organizations in place, individuals often face challenges in navigating the complex and siloed ecosystem on their own. Without proper support, individuals may have trouble in efficiently enrolling in benefits programs or in understanding all of the services available. 

Community-based organizations (CBOs) have the capacity to help formerly incarcerated individuals break the cycle, but without the right tools to coordinate care and track success, their impact is limited. 

Technology can help mitigate these challenges by providing a seamless workflow to ensure newly released individuals get the help they need, and CBOs, service providers and those who fund them, can measure the impact of their work and drive continuous improvement. 

Here’s how coordinated social care platforms can reduce uncertainty in the reentry process and help reduce rates of recidivism. Coordinated care platforms:

1Create a network of providers.

While multiple resources may exist within the community, providers often operate in silos with no connection to one another. Referrals happen via phone call and manual paperwork, and only if a provider has the time and knowledge to make the right calls. 

Using a care coordination platform allows communities to connect the appropriate organizations and providers all on one same system—much like an in-network health insurance program—where they can securely access shared data, easily make referrals and streamline client handoffs from one provider to another. With this shared infrastructure in place, CBOs can ultimately work together and collaborate to help justice-involved individuals transition successfully back into their communities.

2Provide navigation assistance.

For individuals who have spent prolonged time in jail or prison, it is often overwhelming to find who to call or where to go for supportive services. If they do seek help from one resource, individuals must then rely on that provider to know where and how to refer them for additional services. For example, if an individual seeks housing assistance, are they also referred to job assistance services? This is a major hurdle: 40% of former federal prisoners remain unemployed at any given time. And it’s nearly impossible to secure and maintain housing without a way to pay for it. 

Care coordination platforms allow discharge planners to screen for and identify needs prior to release, to make the necessary referrals and provide a comprehensive reentry plan. This way, clients aren’t relying on providers to know what they need—it’s built into the workflow from the beginning. 

3Track results.

Providing health and social care services is an effective strategy, but without tracking outcomes over time, CBOs and funders can’t reliably know which services are most impactful. To do that, they need data. 

For example, we know that pre-release Medicaid enrollment assistance significantly increases post-release healthcare utilization, which helps lower the risk of morbidity and mortality, primarily from drug overdose. By tracking the results of interventions, CBOs can identify what’s working and what’s not, allowing them to develop best practices for discharge planning and follow-up. 

4Understand where to invest.

Public policy has long favored investment in the correctional  system (law enforcement, the court system, jail and prison), primarily because it’s easily trackable—we have data to prove we took X number of offenders off the street, so it’s easy to justify that investment. But wouldn’t it be better to say we helped X formerly incarcerated individuals successfully return to society and live healthy and safe lives? 

Using care coordination platforms that automatically track metrics allows CBOs to prove the effectiveness of interventions, which can be used to justify further investment in programs that work. In LA County, for example, a housing stability program saw a 91% success rate at six months and 74% at 12, with 86% of participants having no felonies in the first year. 

5Create opportunities to re-invest.

Investing in reentry programs not only helps reduce the recidivism rate, but it also lowers the cost of incarceration. When states save money and have the data to prove it, they can re-invest that savings into providing more community-based services to more individuals. 

In Oregon, funding behavioral health, skills-building and other transition services helped save the state $94 million over four years, by reducing prison intake rates and length-of-stay. In Miami-Dade County, Florida, a program to decriminalize mental illness and offer treatment in lieu of incarceration for low-level offenses has saved taxpayers $12 million. By knowing what works, states and CBOs can expand their budget for re-entry services at no new cost to taxpayers. 

Every year, more than 600,000 people are released from prisons and over nine million circulate through local jails—to say nothing of the millions more family members affected by the vicious cycle of recidivism. By implementing technology to help states and CBOs deliver the right services to the right people at the right time, social care coordination platforms can help reduce mass incarceration in America and build stronger, healthier families and communities.

Eric Beane – VP of Regulatory and Government Affairs

Eric comes to Unite Us with a demonstrated record of system change and a passion for improving people’s lives. Most recently, he served as Secretary of Health & Human Services in Rhode Island where he prioritized improving access to health care, controlling costs, and addressing the addiction and overdose crisis. He previously served as Chief Operating Officer for the State of Rhode Island and as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Governor of Maryland. Earlier in his career, he practiced as a trial attorney for the Federal Programs Branch of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, DC. Eric is excited to join a dynamic company that recognizes that building healthier communities requires collaboration between our health system and social service organizations. Outside of work, Eric enjoys traveling, hiking and reading (a mix of history and fiction).