• Scholarly report

Reentry court research An overview of findings from the National Institute of Justice’s evaluation of Second Chance Act adult reentry courts

Background: There are myriad challenges associated with the reentry of formerly incarcerated individuals, coupled with a dearth of rigorous research examining reentry courts. It is well known that formerly incarcerated individuals face overwhelming obstacles, such as limited occupational or educational experiences to prepare them for employment, drug and alcohol addictions, mental and physical health challenges, strained family relations, and limited opportunities due to the stigma of a criminal record. Reentry courts seek to address these challenges by assessing the individuals for risks and needs; linking them to appropriate community-based services; and overseeing the treatment process through ongoing court oversight, probation or parole supervision, and case management. Under the Second Chance Act (SCA) of 2007 (Pub. L. 110-199), the Bureau of Justice Assistance funded reentry programs including the eight sites participating in this National Institute of Justice Evaluation of SCA Adult Reentry Courts. This document provides a summary overview of the evaluation and complements three annual reports that provide more detailed information on the program processes and populations, research methods, and findings.

Study Goals: This study of eight SCA reentry courts across the U.S. had four goals: 1. Describe the SCA reentry courts through a comprehensive process evaluation. 2. Determine the effectiveness of the SCA reentry courts at reducing recidivism and improving individual outcomes through a rigorous impact evaluation. 3. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis. 4. Contribute to the development of a “true“ reentry court model.

Methods: The study used a multi-method approach including 1. a process evaluation in all eight sites involving yearly site visits from 2012 to 2014 with key stakeholder interviews, observations, and participant focus groups; 2. a prospective impact evaluation (in four sites) including interviews at release from jail or prison and at 12 months after release (as well as oral swab drug tests) with reentry court participants and a matched comparison group; 3. a recidivism impact evaluation (in seven sites) with a matched comparison group tracking recidivism for 2 years post reentry court entry and 4. a cost-benefit evaluation (in seven sites) involving a transactional and institutional cost analysis (TICA) approach. Final administrative data were collected through
the end of 2016.

Results: Results were mixed across sites. One site consistently demonstrated positive outcomes across the interview, recidivism, and cost analyses with the reentry court successfully delivering more substance abuse treatment and other services than what was received by the comparison group. In addition, reentry court participants out-performed the comparison group in reduced recidivism (re-arrests and re-conviction) and reincarceration (revocation and time in jail or prison). Two sites had neutral, trending toward positive, results with reduced participant re-arrests but with other outcomes (such as convictions and re-incarceration) not significantly different between the participants and the comparison group. Two other sites had mixed results (e.g., participants had significantly fewer re-arrests but significantly increased re-incarceration) and two had negative results (e.g., participants had significantly more re-arrests and incarceration while other outcomes were no different between groups). Cost findings were similarly mixed with two sites experiencing cost savings due mainly to lower recidivism costs and fewer victimization costs for reentry court participants ($2,512 and $6,710 saved per participant) and the remainder experiencing loss (ranging from just over -$1,000 to almost - $17,000 loss per participant). The research protocol and process evaluation findings are documented in three annual project reports; research caveats include a lack of detailed treatment service data. Also, reentry court This resource was prepared by the author(s) using Federal funds provided by the U.S. Department of Justice. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. program investment costs are described, but the comparison of cost estimates is limited to outcomes and does not include net benefits based on investment in non-reentry court case processing in the comparison group.

Conclusions: Key processes that set the one site with positive outcomes apart from the other sites was the high level of consistency and intensity of substance abuse treatment, wraparound services for multiple criminogenic needs, high intensity supervision, as well as an increased use of praise from the judge along with other incentives and sanctions. In addition, the eligibility criteria for this site required that participants have a substance use disorder with risk levels ranging from moderate to high (based on their local risk assessment with a three point scale that ranged from low to high). In contrast, other site eligibility criteria did not require a substance use disorder and participant risk levels were mostly high to very high (depending on the assessment tool used and their specific scoring and risk category criteria).1 It is possible that the sites with less positive results did not have the appropriate level and type of services consistently available to best serve the varying risk levels of their participants.


Carey, S., Rempel, M., Lindquist, C., Cissner, A., Hassoun Ayoub, L., Kralstein, C., & Malsch, A. M. (2018). Reentry court research: An overview of findings from the National Institute of Justice’s evaluation of Second Chance Act adult reentry courts.