They Always Come Back: A Discussion of Re-Entry and Treatment Needs Among Offenders in Rural Communities

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Probation and parole have become increasingly popular alternatives to incarceration over the past few decades due to efforts to reduce prison overcrowding and government spending. Successful reintegration and management of offenders in the community is hindered by a combination of individual, social, economic, and logistical factors. The frequency in which offenders are re-arrested after being released from correctional settings has serious implications for both the offenders and the community in which they reside due to additional human victimization, the costly use of taxpayer-funded resources, and continued legal involvement and sanctions. Rural and urban areas differ in terms of resource availability and cultural factors, but limited research informing the prevalence and needs of offenders living in rural areas exists. We conducted a review of the available literature to investigate the differences between the needs of offenders in rural and urban areas during reentry as well as the common barriers that hinder successful reintegration. We sought to determine crucial barriers to reentry and rural-specific concerns and needs to better inform future research and policy initiatives. The literature indicates that offenders transitioning into rural communities face many of the same obstacles as those transitioning into urban settings including difficulties securing housing, finding employment, complying with supervision requirements, locating reliable and affordable transportation, and avoiding substance use, reoffending, and other maladaptive behaviors. In rural areas, however, offenders encounter even more limited housing and employment opportunities, a lack of public transportation, higher rates of poverty, difficulties avoiding antisocial peers, and greater alcohol use rates. Providing mental health treatment to offenders in rural areas is impeded by stigmatization of mental health conditions, a shortage of treatment providers, a lack of resources for specialty treatment such as detox services for substance users, and a lack of referral sources. Probation and parole officers also face substantial obstacles to successfully supervise offenders in rural areas including a greater number of caseloads, greater geographical areas to cover, and fewer referral sources. Thus, our findings reveal that offenders in rural areas have diverse experiences of re-entry compared to those in urban areas. Further discussion regarding the need for rural-specific research to inform policies and practices for rural offender management and suggestions for future directions will be included.


Johnson City, TN

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