Incarceration's Grasp: Can the Men’s Reentry Initiative Help Released Prisoners Avoid Relapse into Criminal Behavior?

University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
DOI: 10.18258/8326
Raised of $4,000 Goal
Funded on 3/03/17
Successfully Funded
  • $4,008
  • 100%
  • Funded
    on 3/03/17



Purpose of Research

In the United States, approximately 95% of all state prisoners will be released at some point. Annually, about 600,000 inmates are released back into the community. Research shows that upon release, housing, employment, transportation, and securing proper identification are among the top priorities for the formerly incarcerated. Various reentry programs across the country seek to prepare inmates for their release and equip them with tools and skills necessary for successful community reintegration.

Offenders often enter prisons with significant challenges such as drug or alcohol addiction, mental health issues, and education and/or employment shortcomings. It can be well assumed that they often leave prison with the same, if not greater, challenges with the added stress effects of a criminal record. The truest measure of risks and needs in criminological research is the risk-and-need assessment. Such instruments gauge the likelihood of criminal behavior based on known factors related to crime. The most commonly used illustration of risk-and-need assessment is the measure of substance use and abuse. For instance, drug and alcohol dependency has been consistently shown to be a criminogenic factor, thus it is a significant indicator of risk of recidivism and need for treatment programs.

The central tenets of successful reentry are “risks” and “needs” of inmates being released, particularly, the risks and needs of serious and/or violent offenders who tend to be the most in need of reentry programs and services. Studies show that this population benefits most from these programs and treatment opportunities. The assessment process is viewed as the most integral step in assigning efficient and effective treatment, education, employment, and other reentry resources to provide minimal threat to public safety, pay most attention to the criminogenic needs of the offender, and create optimal opportunity to maximize offender outcomes.       

This project will conduct an empirical assessment of one such program here in South Carolina, the Men’s Reentry Initiative (MRI). Through an intense 12-week in-facility program, MRI focuses on the basic needs of inmates: physical and mental health, interpersonal relationships, conflict resolution, employment and education resources, and financial security – some of the most significant factors for reducing recidivism. Using qualitative and quantitative research methods, this project will evaluate the curriculum of MRI within a standard risk-and-needs framework as well as assess the success of the program using self-report sentiments of success (including comfort with securing employment, education, housing, etc.) and criminological measures of success (including official records indicating recidivism, maintenance of sobriety, etc.).

The purpose of this research is threefold. First and foremost, we are seeking to discern the effectiveness of a grassroots, single-person run reentry program. While the founder, Mark Sellers, MSW, has kept consistent records of the success of program graduates, the effectiveness of this particular program has not been empirically tested. Second, this research will uncover and further explore the specific risks and needs of South Carolina inmates being released back into the community. For example, studies have shown that treatment received in prison has little effect if the treatment is not continued after release. Similar discoveries in this research may lead to a revamping of the current program and expanding its curriculum to other facilities and populations (i.e., women and juveniles) as well as including more community partners. Lastly, this project will take an interdisciplinary approach to unpacking the distinct needs of recently incarcerated individuals. Drawing upon criminology/criminal justice, sociology, social work, political science, and African-American studies, this project will integrate the fields and foster conversations on how each performs as an actor in the reentry of offenders (i.e., service providers), as well as how each field can influence policy that impacts reentry programs (i.e., researchers).

Study Summary 

Studies show that planning for release early and collaborating with multiple service agencies (i.e., chemical dependence, mental health professionals, etc.) have the most significant effects on reducing recidivism. One local reentry program, Men’s Reentry Initiative (MRI), focuses on men incarcerated in South Carolina jails and prisons. MRI focuses on preventing recidivism after release by providing participants with a curriculum which takes an academic, therapy, and faith-based approach. Through an intense 12-week in-facility program, MRI focuses on the basic needs of inmates: physical and mental health, interpersonal relationships, conflict resolution, employment and education resources, and financial security. These factors have been shown to have the most importance when it comes to reducing recidivism among newly released inmates. The current research will assess the effectiveness of MRI by examining participant characteristics, recidivism rates of graduates, and overall success of program graduates. Using official intake data, MRI participant applications, official arrest data, and publicly available criminal histories, this study will use quantitative approaches to evaluate how released prisoners navigate through their reintegration processes. Specifically, we focus on how MRI has prepared the men for life outside of corrections’ walls. For this research, reentry is defined as “correctional programs that focus on the transition from prison to community and programs that have initiated treatment in a prison setting and have linked with a community program to provide continuity of care” (Seiter & Kadela, 2003, p. 368). Additionally, in accordance with definitions used by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), this project will refer to recidivism in terms of rearrest (as opposed to reconviction or reincarceration) within three years of release.

Study Protocol

The present project provides a post hoc evaluation of the Men’s Reentry Initiative (MRI) processes and outcomes to date. We aim to answer how effective is the program in producing the desired results of reduced disciplinary sanctions and increased positive social propensities, such as involvement in programming and the receipt of privileges, for those still incarcerated as well as lowered recidivism and positive reintegration into society for those released? Additionally, do the benefits for the individual, their family, the community, and correctional system justify the costs of the program? Are their more efficient and effective ways to implement the program? And finally, how may the program be improved and/or expanded if empirically shown to have a significant positive impact on offenders? Answering these questions will provide a baseline understanding of the impact of MRI, the effectiveness of its implementation to date, and the empirical evidence of its proposed value for offenders and the correctional system.

To answer these overarching questions, assessment will be conducted in three stages. First, we will thoroughly describe who these men are that enter MRI. We will evaluate how they are selected to the program; how they vary on demographic characteristics such as age, race, marital status, and employment history; record of offenses; and any other social and personality characteristics that may be measured by the program application. Such analysis will allow us to determine if there are any systematic differences between the MRI participants and the general inmate population as well as assess any within participant variation in impact. This systematic review will also highlight any biases in selection into the program that may have occurred.

Second, we will evaluate how much the program curriculum and implementation align with the reentry and risks/needs literature. Specifically, we will assess if certain components of the program differentially impact the likelihood of positive or negative outcomes as well as its overall significance. We will also assess for any variation in outcome due to variation in implementation between sessions of the program and facilities. This assessment will allow us to pinpoint the most effective elements of the program and under which conditions.

Third, we will determine the success of the program in terms of reduced recidivism and disciplinary sanctions as well as positive reintegration into society and demonstration of prosocial skills. For those still incarcerated, disciplinary sanctions are measured by the number of official sanctions recorded by correctional officers since involvement in MRI. Prosocial skills are reflected in positive program involvement as well as officially recorded privileges inmates may receive (e.g., visitations, recreation, participation in programming, work assignments, etc.). For those released, recidivism is defined as an arrest or conviction since release from the correctional facility. Positive reintegration into society is measured by obtaining and maintaining gainful employment, being enrolled in school, having housing, seeking drug and alcohol treatment if needed, involvement in prosocial outlets such as church and community groups, positive family relationships, and attitudinal changes. Measures of success will be compared between those that were selected but did not complete MRI, those that completed MRI, and the general incarcerated population. Such comparisons will empirically show if success is related to program completion after statistically controlling for other relevant factors such as race and criminal record.

Potential Benefits

This assessment will provide an empirical foundation for the potential refinement and expansion of a local reentry program. This post hoc evaluation will guide further qualitative assessments of the effectiveness and efficiency of the Men’s Reentry Initiative (MRI). MRI has been in operation for over two years, run solely by its founder, Mark Sellers. Mr. Sellers has built relationships with several community partners around the state and has implemented his program in five facilities in South Carolina. He has accumulated much support and interest, and the demand for his program has outgrown a single person’s capabilities. This assessment will empirically validate MRI’s face validity of success and provide evidence-based recommendations for refinement. Based on the results, we hope to seek funding to expand MRI to continue to serve South Carolina’s formerly incarcerated individuals, their families, and communities.    


This project has not yet shared any protocols.