Reintegrative Confinement and Intensive Aftercare
David M. Altschuler and Troy L. Armstrong

As the trend toward confining greater numbers of juveniles in corrections facilities continues (see table 1), increasing attention is being paid to what happens once they are released back into the community. The "what happens" question frequently is asked in reference to two closely related issues. The first is whether released offenders will commit additional crimes, particularly person offenses, and thereby threaten public safety. In fact, one of several motivations for prolonging incarceration is that confinement is regarded by some as the primary way to prevent offenders from committing additional crimes. Implicit in this view is the belief that incarceration is insufficient to prevent or deter offenders from committing crimes when released. A second, and very closely connected, issue centers on what is being done to ensure that released juvenile offenders will not continue to offend. Because there is so much uncertainty surrounding the community adjustment of juvenile offenders after release, some believe the best policy is to postpone release as long as possible. Prolonged incarceration is problematic, however, for several reasons. First, it is exceedingly expensive; second, many juvenile institutions are already dangerously overcrowded (see table 2) and space is scarce; and third, its increased use has not demonstrated measurable reductions in juvenile arrests following the release of incarcerated offenders.

Table 1: The 1-Day Count of Juveniles Held in Public Facilities Rose 47% From 1983 to 1995
Public Facility 1-Day Count Percentage of Change, 1983-1995
Law violation 48%
   Delinquency 52 
      Person 109 
         Violent Index 99 
      Property -17 
      Drug 95 
      Public Order 87 
   Status Offense -21 
Total 47 
  • The increase was not evenly distributed across all offense categories, however. The number of juveniles held for Violent Crime Index offenses doubled. The broader category of person offenses (that includes such offenses as simple assault and kidnaping and the Violent Crime Index offenses) more than doubled.

  • The categories of drug and public order offenses also saw large increases.

  • In contrast, there was a drop in the number of juveniles held for property crimes and status offenses.

Source: Sickmund, M. (1997).
Note: Analysis of data from OJJDP's Children in Custody Census 1982/83 and 1994/95 [machine-readable data files].

In short, there is a growing interest and need to learn more about what steps to take to promote law-abiding behavior in the community by juvenile offenders returning from institutions. What can be learned from prior and ongoing research on corrections sanctioning, supportive programming, and the imposition of social control techniques when emphasis is placed during the confinement phase on linkage with aftercare? What type of approach is likely to generate the most positive outcome, and how can it be implemented? Fortunately, considerable research has been conducted on programs that, to varying degrees and in distinctly different ways, pursue a "reintegrative" form of confinement. Much can be gleaned from these programming initiatives and their evaluations that can help not only to shape the design and development of future efforts and initiatives, but also to guide their implementation and operations. Reintegrative confinement is defined as an incarceration experience that includes a major focus on structured transition and a followup period of aftercare characterized by both surveillance and service provision in the community.

Transition and postinstitutional corrections programming and supervision have attracted considerable attention across the country, in part because research findings tend to indicate that gains made by juvenile offenders in corrections facilities quickly evaporate following release.1 Other research findings suggest that either better outcomes are apparent or the potential for positive impact is increased when a highly structured and enhanced transition from corrections facilities into the community is implemented in accordance with certain specifications.2 An important implication of these findings is the growing realization that incomplete, flawed, or highly uneven implementation cannot produce better outcomes for participating offenders. Stated simply, when requirements for implementing the basic program design are not met, success is unlikely.

What kind of requirements are involved? In general terms, reintegrative confinement emphasizes:

  • Preparing confined offenders for reentry into the specific communities to which they will return.

  • Making the necessary arrangements and linkages with agencies and individuals in the community that relate to known risk and protective factors.

  • Ensuring the delivery of required services and supervision.

To the extent that these general specifications are not met, there is little reason to expect that reoffending behavior will diminish or that the overall performance of youth returning to the community will improve. Accordingly, reintegrative confinement initiatives must be carefully assessed to determine the extent to which implementation adheres to a prescribed model. In addition, different reintegration initiatives must be examined in terms of the specific required program elements, components of the elements, and procedures. Adherence to a theoretically flawed model is no more likely to produce a positive result than is low-quality implementation of a sound model.

This Bulletin provides an overview of what has been learned from research and practice about designing, developing, and implementing aftercare initiatives that place a high priority on reintegrative confinement, structured transition, and followup in the community. Corrections approaches incorporating reintegrative confinement are not widespread. Few of these efforts have been rigorously evaluated. However, a small number of such initiatives have been well documented and analyzed in considerable detail. There is also related research and program development work on intensive aftercare. Collectively, this knowledge base offers important insight and guidance.

Table 2: On February 15, 1995, 69% of Public Facility Residents Were Held in Facilities Operating Above Their Design Capacity
  All Public Facilities   Residents
Design Capacity Total Percentage Operating Above Design Capacity Total Percentage Held in Facilities Operating Above Design Capacity
All public facilities 1,080 40% 69,929 69%
Fewer than 31 residents 595 21 8,543 29
31-110 residents 324 58 18,506 59
111-200 residents 90 63 13,141 66
201-350 residents 39 82 10,075 82
More than 350 residents 32 88 19,664 91
  • 40% of public facilities housed more residents than they were constructed to hold -- a greater proportion than in 1991 (36%).

  • The larger a facility's design capacity, the more likely it was to be operating over capacity.

  • Small facilities (designed for fewer than 31 residents) accounted for the largest number of over-capacity facilities.

Source: Sickmund, M., Snyder, H.N., and Poe-Yamagata, E. (1997).

It is critical to note that much of the recent experimentation with innovative juvenile aftercare programming has focused on ways to develop more effective "intensive" approaches. However, the approaches differ in terms of what "intensive" means and what specialized modalities and practices must be incorporated programmatically. These differences emphasize a variety of issues, including anticipated caseload size and frequency of contact, classification and assessment procedures, criteria for targeting youth appropriate for participation in this kind of intervention framework, and the respective roles of surveillance and treatment/service provision activities to maximize long-term, prosocial community adjustment and normalization. Questions include:

  • What constitutes a measurable threshold of intensity in terms of supervision and services?

  • What range of offender profiles (with regard to delinquent histories and/ or special problems/needs) defines the parameters for referral to these programs?

  • What technology can be brought to bear to better identify and match clients to effective intervention?

The programs and developmental work discussed in this Bulletin represent attempts to answer such questions.

In the following pages, the small body of research and developmental work on intensive aftercare is briefly reviewed, highlighting both the lessons learned and the pitfalls experienced. First, however, it is useful to explore the underlying rationale, both theoretical and empirical, that has led selected jurisdictions across the country to focus on intensive juvenile aftercare. This discussion is followed by a description and brief analysis of the individual intensive aftercare initiatives.

1 See, for example, Altschuler, 1984; Altschuler and Armstrong, 1991; Baird, Storrs, and Connelly, 1984; Catalano et al., 1988; Coates, Miller, and Ohlin, 1978; Whittaker, 1979.

2 See, for example, Altschuler, 1998; Deschenes, Greenwood, and Marshall, 1996; Fagan, 1990; Greenwood, Deschenes, and Adams, 1993; Goodstein and Sontheimer, 1997; MacKenzie, 1997; Sealock, Gottfredson, and Gallagher, 1995, 1997; Sontheimer and Goodstein, 1993.

Reintegration, Supervised Release, and Intensive Aftercare Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  July 1999