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When Prisoners Come Home

Parole and Prisoner Reentry

Joan Petersilia

Publication Date - 21 April 2009

ISBN: 9780195386127

320 pages
6 1/8 X 9 1/4 inches

In Stock

A broad and empirically informed resource, this book explores the critical dimensions of prisoner reentry and offers policy and program solutions.


Every year, hundreds of thousands of jailed Americans leave prison and return to society. Largely uneducated, unskilled, often without family support, and with the stigma of a prison record hanging over them, many if not most will experience serious social and psychological problems after release. Fewer than one in three prisoners receive substance abuse or mental health treatment while incarcerated, and each year fewer and fewer participate in the dwindling number of vocational or educational pre-release programs, leaving many all but unemployable. Not surprisingly, the great majority is rearrested, most within six months of their release. What happens when all those sent down the river come back up--and out?

As long as there have been prisons, society has struggled with how best to help prisoners reintegrate once released. But the current situation is unprecedented. As a result of the quadrupling of the American prison population in the last quarter century, the number of returning offenders dwarfs anything in America's history. What happens when a large percentage of inner-city men, mostly Black and Hispanic, are regularly extracted, imprisoned, and then returned a few years later in worse shape and with dimmer prospects than when they committed the crime resulting in their imprisonment? What toll does this constant "churning" exact on a community? And what do these trends portend for public safety? A crisis looms, and the criminal justice and social welfare system is wholly unprepared to confront it.

Drawing on dozens of interviews with inmates, former prisoners, and prison officials, Joan Petersilia convincingly shows us how the current system is failing, and failing badly. Unwilling merely to sound the alarm, Petersilia explores the harsh realities of prisoner reentry and offers specific solutions to prepare inmates for release, reduce recidivism, and restore them to full citizenship, while never losing sight of the demands of public safety.

As the number of ex-convicts in America continues to grow, their systemic marginalization threatens the very society their imprisonment was meant to protect. America spent the last decade debating who should go to prison and for how long. Now it's time to decide what to do when prisoners come home.

About the Author(s)

Joan Petersilia is Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law at Stanford Law School. The author of numerous books and a former president of the American Society of Criminology, she is a consultant to the United States Department of Justice and to many state and local agencies.


"In When Prisoners Come Home, Petersilia exposes her investigative and policy background to good effect....Petersilia's arguments--plainly stated and soundly grounded in the empirical evidence on program failures and successes--provide an aggressive agenda for practices that could meaningfully change the way criminal justice is implemented in the United States."--Community Corrections Report

"When Prisoners Come Home sets the stage for reinventing the offender pre-release planning and discharge process. Dr. Petersilia's insight is nothing less than inspiring." --Reginald Wilkinson, Former President, American Correctional Association

"Joan Petersilia has brilliantly mapped the terrain of prisoner reentry, mixing forgotten wisdom, new data and fresh insights into a compelling call for new approaches to the reintegration of returning prisoners."--Jeremy Travis, Senior Fellow, The Urban Institute

"Nationally recognized criminology scholar Petersilia has provided a benchmark text portraying the pressing societal and criminal justice policy crisis of a record number of prisoners returning to communities.... A must-read for every American."--CHOICE

"Prisoner reentry has emerged as the most important new issue in justice policy. When Prisoners Come Home is the best, most comprehensive source of material on reentry that exists anywhere."--Todd R. Clear, Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

"When Prisoners Come Home is scholarship at its highest practical level. With about 600,000 prisoners being released each year, governments are planning massive and expensive efforts to deal with the avalanche. Dr. Petersilia's book is a necessary ally in that formidable task. To add to its attraction, it is crisply and clearly written - scholarship infused by practical experience and presented without pretension. For many decades it will dominate the literature on parole and the conditions of prisoners returning to society."--the late Norval Morris, Julius Kreeger Professor of Law & Criminology, Emeritus, University of Chicago

"Over 95 percent of our state and federal prison inmates will be released, most only a few years after they began their incarceration. Joan Petersilia's lucid book gives us the best scientific guidance on how to maximize, cost-effectively, the prospects that after they get out, they will finally become law abiding."--Daniel Glaser, Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California, Past President, American Society of Criminology

"A lucid, comprehensive and scholarly accounting of reentry. This publication will serve as the premier text on reentry for many years to come. Petersilia's book presents a striking and rigorous synthesis of what is known (and not known) in the reentry literature. Her bibliography offers an encyclopedic review of the literature."--Chief Edward E. Rhine, Office of Offender Reentry and Correctional Best Practices, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Table of Contents

    1. Introduction and Overview
    2. Who's Coming Home? A Profile of Returning Prisoners
    3. The Origins and Evolution of Modern Parole
    4. The Changing Nature of Parole Supervision and Services
    5. How We Help: Preparing Inmates for Release
    6. How We Hinder: Legal and Practical Barriers to Reintegration
    7. Revolving Door Justice: Inmate Release and Recidivism
    8. The Victim's Role in Prisoner Reentry
    9. What to Do? Reforming Parole and Reentry Practices
    10. Conclusions: When Punitive Policies Backfire