More than 2 million people are currently serving time in America’s prisons. Over half a million are released back into the community every year. Many inmates have addiction or mental health disorders, or both; according to one study, over 60 percent of offenders tested at the time of arrest admitted to using or were found to have been using at least one illicit drug. Recidivism rates are high, with 67 to 90 percent being arrested in the three-to-five-year period following release. The revolving door of arrest, imprisonment, release to the community, and re-arrest has spawned interest in prisoner re-entry programs—programs that provide services to inmates when they are in prison and after they are released to help them integrate back into society.
In this chapter of the Anthology, Will Bunch, a journalist with the Philadelphia Daily News, looks at Health Link, an early prisoner re-entry program that ran between 1992 and 2002 and was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program tested the idea of caseworkers helping recently released inmates with jobs, education, health, housing and other social services. It was evaluated by means of a study whereby roughly half of the released inmates were provided these case management services and half were not, and at the end of a year, the two groups were compared for rates of recidivism and drug use, among other outcomes.