This study seeks to explore the experiences of formerly incarcerated persons and their perceptions of what helped them make life changes and lead productive lives. The purpose of this study is to gain a deeper understanding of the variables that contribute to lower rates of recidivism and factors that keep people from reoffending.
Participants were recruited through college-based programs as well as work-study programs that help formerly incarcerated individuals. This study uses a qualitative phenomenological method with a semi-structured interview to explore each individual's experience of the penal system.
Eight participants who have successfully reentered society were interviewed. This study found that during incarceration, the penal system was perceived by participants as problematic in some way, leading to a desire to change. External support was found to be the primary external variable that contributes to successful reentry. This support was evidenced by others showing interest in participants as well as the availability of tangible resources (e.g., higher education, housing, or employment).
All participants cited introspection and a deep commitment to change (as compared to desire alone) as helpful internal variables. The common phenomena identified by this researcher are 1) a significant identity shift either during incarceration or after release, 2) a marked change in thought process adopted by the participant, and 3) a drive to be altruistic after release.
For this population, clinical implications include the need to focus treatment on the following: risk reduction, setting realistic goals, frustration tolerance, emotional regulation, individual strengths, understanding one's locus of control, and preparing for acculturation during reentry. Treatment for trauma and substance abuse should be available for those that need it, and when possible, incorporating family therapy and altruistic activities for individuals is strongly encouraged.
Each participant spoke to the need for systemic change; better communication and collaboration is needed between prison staff, policymakers, healthcare professionals, law enforcement, and current and former inmates. Through access to improved resources for formerly incarcerated individuals after release, the hope is that crime rates and recidivism will reduce, and taxpayers will save money.