This guest post comes from Kathy Fox, University of Vermont Department of Sociology
In an article published this year called “Restoring the Social” (International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminology, Vol. 38, No. 3, 2014), I argue that correctional programs are beginning to reincorporate social understandings of criminal offending. For decades, corrections has relied upon an almost purely psychological approach to offending. In other words, the notion was that if you can correct inmates’ psychological distortions, then they would be ready for success upon release.
But now of course, we realize the complex social dimensions of criminal offending and of desistance. In the paper, I explicate a model I created to try to explain the varieties of reentry processes, based on a few dimensions: a) support of the offender; b) accountability of/by offender and community; c) the degree of engagement on the parts of offenders and community members.
Reentry processes that are simply high on support might be termed “reintegrative reentry”, which means it has a good amount of inclusion of the offender by the community. At the other extreme would be one that is high on accountability but low on support, which would be a kind of “net-widening” insofar as it is essentially piling on greater control. “Traditional reentry” is what has been typically done until the recent efforts to do better reentry planning—it was low on both meaningful accountability and effective support. The prison doors were opened and inmates’ were given “gate money” and told that they’d be back soon!
“Restorative reentry” would be characterized by high degrees of support by community members and high degrees of accountability, not in the form of compliance and control but through developing a sense of mutual community obligation, and a sense of belonging to a normative community. We might consider this the ideal, but it is accomplished through a deeper involvement/engagement on the part of the community. If the community “supervises” from a distance, that is net-wdening (not the typical coceptualization of it, rather the kind in which informal social control is not substituted for formal control, but simply added on). Accountability usually references only the offenders’ responsibility to acknowledge the harms done, and a commitment to not re-offend. In thinking of a restorative justice inspired model for offender reentry, accountability would also include the community’s responsibility to “restore” the offender. I have often been struck by the restorative justice triangle, which in diagrams shows the community, the victim, and the offender. But attention to the offender’s restoration is usually forgotten. Likewise, in my model, low levels of offender engagement is unlikely to lead to a community’s restoration.
The figure below sums up these four forms of reentry.
Restorative Reentry Model (Fox, 2013)