Much has been said of the failure of rehabilitative approaches advocated in the early 1970's to reduce recidivism. It has also been pointed out that punitive sanctions fail to achieve rehabilitative outcomes. The problem is exacerbated for ethnic minorities because of the discrimination they may face on account of their race or origin. Others argue that incarceration itself can foster antisocial values and an inability to make decisions or plan ahead, the so-called "institutionalized mentality". These factors add to the barriers prisoners must overcome to successfully reintegrate into the community.


It has been posited that crime weakens, and often destroys, community bonds and relationships. Consistent with the underlying purposes of restorative justice, prisoner assistance programmes attempt to develop in prisoners capacities which allow them to function in the legitimate community. Prisoner assistance programmes provide opportunities for prisoners to make the transition from institutionalization to community membership, from stigmatized offender lacking social capital to restored individual possessing marketable skills.

Implementation and Evaluation

Two examples of prisoner assistance programmes are the Alternatives to Violence project (AVP) and the Detroit Transition of Prisoners (TOP). The AVP consists of workshops which focus on building community and trust while developing communication and conflict-resolution skills in prisoners. These skills help facilitate reintegration into the community, as constructive conflict-resolution skills replace destructive violent responses.

TOP consists of a church-based, non-residential aftercare programme providing accountability for ex-prisoners. The TOP programme also works to mobilize the support of the business community, social service agencies and other local resources to provide for the needs of the ex-prisoner and his/her family. These spheres of interdependency translate into accountability as the ex-prisoner assumes job and familial responsibilities. The success of the TOP programme may be illustrated by the following: the recidivism rate of the TOP participants is just 9%, compared to an anticipated rate of 50% based on risk assessment scores.

This document prepared by Christopher Bright. Copyright Prison Fellowship International.

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