Office of National Drug Control Policy

In-Custody Treatment and Offender Reentry

Nearly seven million American adults are under supervision of the state and Federal criminal justice systems: approximately two million of these individuals are incarcerated for their crimes, while the remaining five million are supervised through probation or parole. Though many criminal justice innovations are focused on diversion, drug courts, and alternatives to incarceration, the Administration recognizes that incarceration may, in some cases, be the appropriate response to an offender’s criminal activity and underlying substance use disorder. However, we must ensure that evidence-based substance abuse treatment services are available to incarcerated offenders to reduce drug use and related criminal behavior. In addition, it is critical that prisoners being released from prison or jail and reentering society have access to skills and services that will prevent them from re-offending in the future. By intervening at these critical points in the criminal justice process, we can improve public safety by preventing drug-involved offenders from being trapped in the endless cycle of drug use and crime.

Improving Treatment for Incarcerated Offenders

Despite the high prevalence of substance use and abuse before prison, relatively few prisoners report ever receiving substance abuse treatment while incarcerated. In fact, roughly 4 in 10 prisoners reported participating in some treatment services. Just one-quarter of men and 14 percent of women reported participating in a formal drug or alcohol treatment program while incarcerated.

One way the Federal Government is addressing treatment needs for incarcerated populations is through the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) program for state prisoners. The RSAT program helps states, local, and tribal governments provide residential substance abuse treatment to inmates and prepare offenders for their reintegration into the community. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is working with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) to ensure evidence-based treatment services are provided to federal prisoners.

In addition to promoting the expansion of in-custody treatment programs, ONDCP is advancing gender-responsive treatment for incarcerated women. An estimated 62 percent of female inmates in state prison and 56 percent in Federal prisons are parents of minor children.  Incarcerated women with children would benefit from improved conditions of maternal incarceration and increased support for programming focused on parent-child relationships during a mother’s sentence.

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Offender Reentry

Each year, more than 700,000 people are released from state and Federal prison, while another 9 million cycle through local jails. When reentry fails, the costs – both societal and economic – are high. Statistics indicate that more than 40 percent of offenders return to state prison within three years of their release.  High rates of recidivism mean more crime, more victims, and more pressure on an already-overburdened criminal justice system.

Among reentering offenders:

  • 8 in 10 report drug or alcohol use in the sixth months prior to incarceration
  • 75 percent of men and 83 percent of women report using illegal drugs during this time period.

ONDCP is a member of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, convened in January 2011 by Attorney General Eric Holder with the purpose of making communities safer, assisting those returning from prison and jail in becoming productive, tax-paying citizens, and saving taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.

Substance Abuse and Reentry

Approximately two-thirds of people in prison meet criteria for substance abuse or dependence, but less than 15 percent of these individuals receive treatment while incarcerated. This lack of needed treatment continues and only worsens during reentry. Not surprisingly, offenders who had substance abuse problems before prison are more likely to return to drug and alcohol use during reentry. Illegal drug and alcohol use place individuals at risk of re-arrest and re-incarceration. Within the first year after release, one-fifth of men and one-quarter of women with substance abuse problems return to state prisons, compared to only 12 and 9 percent, respectively, of those without substance abuse problems.  Substance abusers also report higher incidences of violating parole conditions and higher criminal activity following release.

In October 2010, under the Second Chance Act, the Department of Justice awarded $100 million to 187 grantees to provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, and other services that improve reentry to society and reduce recidivism. In 2011, in collaboration with BJA and the National Reentry Resource Center, ONDCP is facilitating the expansion of family-based treatment training and technical assistance to the Second Chance Act Family-Based Prisoner Substance Abuse Treatment Program grantees.

Dispelling Myths Surrounding Offenders Reentering Society

The Reentry Council is working to dispel myths, clarify Federal policies, and call attention to the importance of reentry issues and actions that can be taken to improve outcomes. It has developed a set of “Reentry MythBusters” to address a number of issues pertaining to reentering offenders, employers, and housing officials. Below are several examples of the myths surrounding reentry:

Social Security Benefits

MYTH: Eligibility for Social Security benefits cannot be reinstated when an individual is released from incarceration.
FACT: Social Security benefits are not payable if an individual is convicted of a criminal offense and confined. However, monthly benefits usually can be reinstated after a period of incarceration by contacting Social Security and providing proof of release.

Parental Rights

MYTH: Child welfare agencies are required to terminate parental rights if a parent is incarcerated.
FACT: Important exceptions to the requirement to terminate parental rights provide child welfare agencies and states with the discretion to work with incarcerated parents, their children, and the caregivers to preserve and strengthen family relationships.

Federal Bonding Program

MYTH: Businesses and employers have no way to protect themselves from potential property and monetary losses should an individual they hire prove to be dishonest.
FACT: Through the Federal Bonding Program (FBP), funded and administered by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), fidelity insurance bonds are available to indemnify employers for loss of money or property sustained through the dishonest acts of their employees (i.e., theft, forgery, larceny, and embezzlement).

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Benefits

MYTH: A parent with a felony conviction cannot receive TANF/welfare.
FACT: The 1996 Welfare ban applies only to convicted drug felons, and only eleven states have kept the ban in place in its entirety. Most states have modified or eliminated the ban.

Federal Student Financial Aid

MYTH: A person with a criminal record is not eligible to receive Federal student financial aid.
FACT: Individuals who are currently incarcerated in a Federal, state, or local correctional institution have some limited eligibility for Federal student aid. In general, restrictions on Federal student aid eligibility are removed for formerly incarcerated individuals, including those on probation, on parole, or residing in a halfway house.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefits

MYTH: Individuals convicted of a felony can never receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program) benefits.
FACT: This ban applies only to convicted drug felons, and only thirteen States have kept the ban in place in its entirety. Most States have modified or eliminated the ban.

Hiring Restrictions

MYTH: People with criminal records are automatically barred from employment.
FACT: An arrest or conviction record will NOT automatically bar individuals from employment.

Federal Hiring Policies

MYTH: The Federal Government’s hiring policies prohibit employment of people with criminal records.
FACT: The Federal Government does not have a policy that precludes employment of people with criminal records from all positions.

Veterans Benefits

MYTH: Veterans cannot request to have their VA benefits resumed until they are officially released from incarceration.
FACT: Veterans may inform VA to have their benefits resumed within 30 days or less of their anticipated release date based on evidence from a parole board or other official prison source showing the veteran’s scheduled release date.

Public Housing Eligibility

MYTH: Individuals who have been convicted of a crime are “banned” from public housing.
FACT: Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) have great discretion in determining their admissions and occupancy policies for ex-offenders. While PHAs can choose to ban ex-offenders from participating in public housing and Section 8 programs, it is not HUD policy to do so. In fact, in many circumstances, formerly incarcerated people should not be denied access.

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