All Publications
Policy Proposals

Graduated reintegration: Smoothing the transition from prison to community

October 21, 2016


Individuals are too often released from prison with little or no real support provided for their reintegration into the community. The transition they are expected to make—from complete supervision to complete autonomy—is fraught with difficulties that impair their chances of success. Evidence suggests that immediately following their release from prison, releasees experience tremendous stress, high criminal recidivism, and even sharply elevated mortality.


The authors propose to test a program entitled “graduated reintegration” which would, for some prisoners, replace the current system of incarceration, release, and post-release supervision with shorter prison stays followed by a more gradual release to freedom. The program would provide necessary services such as housing, employment, a food budget, and health care, all while imposing close supervision that would gradually and predictably diminish in exchange for compliance with program rules.  Graduated reintegration aims to decrease the prison population, reduce crime, and improve outcomes for those leaving prison as well as for their families and neighbors.


High recidivism rates—some 50 percent of released prisoners return within three years—constitute a major factor driving both high crime rates and high incarceration rates. The unduly sudden process of prisoner release contributes to recidivism by confronting releasees with unnecessarily difficult problems of subsistence and adjustment.

Graduated Reintegration addresses that problem by making the release process less sudden. This paper offers a proposal to pilot and evaluate Graduated Reintegration, which would move prisoners from their cells to supported housing before what otherwise would have been their release dates. Participants would be subject to prison-like rules (curfew, position monitoring, drug testing, no use of cash, directed job search) enforced by a system of swift, certain, and fair rewards and sanctions. Compliance and achievement would be rewarded with increased freedom, and noncompliance sanctioned with temporarily increase restriction. Graduated Reintegration aims to transform the releasee continuously rather than suddenly from a prisoner in a cell to an ordinary resident with an apartment and a job.