Reentry is about relationships

In the last 15 years, “reentry” has become a buzzword in the criminal justice world. Reentry, however, has existed as long as we have had prisons and jails. Reentry is simply the point where people are released from prisons and jails. Period. They have “reentered” society. (I think of everything that follows as the “transition.”)

Reentry, for the people being released from prisons and jails, is complicated, and becomes more complicated the longer people have been “incapacitated” in prisons and jails. (“Incapacitation” is considered one of the “legitimate penological goals.”) For the record, which most Americans should know by now, the United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world. The U.S. has other dubious distinctions in this field: the U.S. holds people in prisons for longer periods of time than any other nation in the world; the U.S. sentences more people to life without the possibility of parole than any other nation in the world; the U.S. sentences more people to life sentences than any other nation in the world; the U.S. has more juveniles sentenced to life than any other nation in the world — this list of dubious distinction goes on and on, and if I continue I won’t get to the subject at hand.

I wanted to write a little about the process of reentry, what’s most important in this process. If one were to survey organizations working in the field of reentry, as well as the people they serve, and requested a list of the Top 5 things people need in order to make a seamless and successful transition from prisons and jails to their families and their communities, the list would look something like this, not necessarily in this order: 1) employment; 2) alcohol and/or substance abuse treatment; 3) a support system (that would include financial support until the individual becomes gainfully employed); 4) Voc/Ed training and 5) counseling. To this list I would add “debriefing” the prison/jail experience (different than counseling), and financial literacy. But the most important thing, which is somewhat implied in number 3, is family.

The Osborne Association, the organization for which I work, has been serving people impacted by the criminal justice system since 1931, and under the leadership of its Executive Director, Liz Gaynes, for the past 25 years, has been one of the few if not the only organization serving people impacted by the criminal justice system that has been “family-focused,” that is, that has stressed the importance of family in reentry, beginning with working with people even before they are sentenced (through its Court Advocacy Services), during imprisonment and after imprisonment (reentry). When we look at how people manage those primary relationships (family), and if they manage them well, we would see that those people who manage those primary relationsips well, manage other relationships well, and are more successful in making the transition from prisons and jails to their families and their communities.

Indeed, reentry is about relationships, “right” relationships.

To learn more about the Osborne Association, visit its webpage at


About William Eric Waters, aka Easy Waters

Award-winning poet, playwright and writer. Author of three books of poetry, "Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present"; "Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats"; "The Black Feminine Mystique," and a novel, "Streets of Rage." All four books are available on
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