Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Audit: Low Accountability For Offender Reentry Programs

by Matt Rosenberg December 4th, 2010

SUMMARY: U.S. Department of Justice “offender reentry” grant programs meant to help released prisoners reintegrate with society and avoid future criminal convictions were not properly designed and implemented because they don’t include any substantive measures to evaluate whether or not they are actually achieving their goals. Clear standards should be promoted for defining avoidance of repeat offenses (such as a three-year gap between prisoner release and any new convictions) and they should be used to compile data leading to regular evaluations of the programs’ performance. Sixty-two percent of the 760 enrolled participants in DOJ’s Washington State offender reentry program had been re-convicted on felony or misdemeanor charges within 18 months of release from prison. Problems have persisted since 2000 across the Department of Justice in monitoring grantee performance. Office of Justice Programs grantees misspend “significant amounts” of funds on “unallowable and unsupported costs.” The U.S. government spent $173.9 million on offender reentry program from fiscal year 2002 through 2009.

BACKGROUND: More than 650,000 convicts are released from state and federal jails annually and a higher number from local jails. But federal data indicate more than half will be in “some form of legal trouble within three years.” The U.S. Department of Justice administers three grant programs which aim to help offenders when the re-enter society and reduce recidivism, or subsequent criminal offenses by released prisoners. The three programs are: the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI); the Prisoner Reentry Initiative (PRI); and the Second Chance Act Prisoner Reentry Initiative (SCA). The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) gave 154 grants worth $173.9 million for offender rentry programs from fiscal years 2002 through 2009. The audit of the three programs by the justice department’s Office of the Inspector General was conducted to evaluate how well each one was designed and managed. One main emphasis was on whether the programs had built-in performance standards and data collection, so their success could be measured.

KEY LINK: Audit Report 10-34, U.S. Department Of Justice’s Office Of The Inspector General, “Office of Justice Programs’ Management Of Its Offender Reentry Initiatives,” 7/10.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • Since 2000, the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General has stressed in official reports that overseeing performance of DOJ grant recipients has been one of the department’s top management challenges. This is because many grantees don’t provide required financial or progress reports at all, or in a timely manner; because “DOJ’s granting agencies struggle with effectively monitoring grantees activities;” and at OJP, because grantees keep spending “significant amounts” of grant funds “on unallowable and unsupported costs…”
  • The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) didn’t set up an effective approach to evaluate whether SVORI and PRI grantees were meeting program goals to help successfully reintegrate released prisoners into society and avoid new criminal offenses. SVORI grant files showed “little to no documentation of grant monitoring activities. The was more documentation in PRI case files but the assessments made, called “desk reviews,” were typically of poor quality.
  • OJP, which disperses the prisoner reentry program grants on behalf of the U.S. government, “did not adequately define key terms essential for determining whether program goals were met,” nor were grantees compelled to define baseline recidivism rates needed to assess program performance.
  • 62 percent of the 760 released offenders enrolled in the DOJ’s SVORI program overseen by the Washington State Department of Corrections had been re-convicted on felony or misdemeanor charges within 18 months of release from prison. 68 percent of participants in a SVORI program overseen by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice violated parole and 77 percent arrested after release from prison. As well, an independent national evaluation of the SVORI program concluded it had “no significant effect” on recidivism.
  • OJP should ensure its prisoner reentry programs are to designed to allow determination of effectiveness to reduce repeat criminal convictions by released offenders. Key components are “a consistent definition of recidivism;” establishment of baseline recidivism rates for comparing program participants versus non-participants; review of previous reentry programs to for best practices and lessons learned; developing a process to actually use performance data.

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