Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Release Preparation Program
Date:  09-01-2016

Review finds the RPP courses do not always meet participants' needs and there is little incentive to participate
From the Office of the Inspector General issued the report Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Release Preparation Program:

During the past 3 years, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) released nearly 125,000 inmates from its custody into Residential Reentry Centers (RRC), into home confinement, or directly into communities in the United States. While not all of these inmates will re-offend, analyses of historical data have shown that many of them will. For example, the U.S. Sentencing Commission recently evaluated recidivism rates for federal offenders released in 2005 and found that nearly half of them were re-arrested within 8 years of their release for committing a new crime or for violating their supervision conditions.

To help inmates successfully transition back into the community and to help reduce the likelihood that they will re-offend, the BOP operates, among various reentry efforts, the Release Preparation Program (RPP), which was the focus of this review. The BOP requires every institution to provide an RPP, and most sentenced inmates at BOP-operated institutions are required to participate in the RPP. The RPP consists of classes, instruction, and assistance in six broad categories: (1) Health and Nutrition, (2) Employment, (3) Personal Finance and Consumer Skills, (4) Information and Community Resources, (5) Release Requirements and Procedures, and (6) Personal Growth and Development. The RPP has two segments: the Institution RPP, developed by each institution’s RPP committee based on the general release needs of the institution’s inmate population, and the Unit RPP, developed by the institution’s unit teams based on the needs of the individual inmate. Inmates must complete both segments for the BOP to consider them to have completed the RPP and to be better prepared for their eventual transition back into society.

This review examines the BOP’s effectiveness in fulfilling the RPP’s established program objectives. These objectives are to enhance inmates’ successful reintegration into the community through RPP participation; to enter into partnerships with various groups to provide information, programs, and services to releasing inmates; and to reduce inmate recidivism.

Results in Brief

We identified several weaknesses in the BOP’s implementation of its RPP that hinder the BOP’s efforts to successfully transition inmates back into the community. These weaknesses include the BOP’s inability to ensure that RPPs across its institutions meet inmate needs; the low level of RPP completion; the BOP’s lack of coordination with other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs, to provide access to services that incarcerated inmates need upon release; and the BOP’s inability to determine the RPP’s effect on recidivism.

Significantly, we found that the BOP does not ensure that the RPPs across its institutions are meeting inmate needs. Specifically, BOP policy does not provide a nationwide RPP curriculum, or even a centralized framework to guide curriculum development. Rather, it leaves each BOP institution to determine its own RPP curriculum, which has led to widely inconsistent curricula, content, and quality i among RPP courses. These variations present significant complications to, and have ultimately precluded the BOP from, identifying and measuring the specific effects of RPP courses. Relatedly, we found that the BOP does not use a systematic method to identify specific inmate needs when determining the curriculum an inmate is to receive. Instead, the institution staff exercises its discretion to determine the inmate’s needs, primarily by reviewing the inmate’s Pre-Sentence Investigation Report, which includes a summary of criminal history and personal information. By comparison, we found that some state correctional departments use assessment tools to predict an inmate’s risk of recidivating, to better identify factors tied to that risk, and to tailor programming to address those specific risk factors. In addition, BOP institution staffs do not formally collect inmate feedback about RPP courses to ensure their content is relevant. As a result, the BOP does not have an objective and formal process to accurately identify and assess inmate needs or determine which RPP courses are relevant.

We also found that, according to BOP data, less than a third of inmates required to participate in the RPP actually complete the entire program. Moreover, there are often few incentives for inmates to participate and no repercussions for those who refuse or choose not to complete the program. For example, participation in the RPP is usually not a significant factor for determining whether to place an inmate in an RRC.1 Additionally, we found very limited RPP participation among inmates in Special Housing Units (SHU). Indeed, we could verify only 2 out of the BOP 121 institutions as having complete RPP schedules for their inmates housed in a SHU. BOP officials told us that they did not consider this a problem because they believe that in almost all instances, inmates are not in the SHUs for a long time during their incarceration.

Furthermore, we found that the BOP does not adequately leverage its relationships with other federal agencies to enhance its RPP efforts. Relating to release preparation needs, the BOP currently has only one formal, national agreement with another federal agency that relates to release preparation services, the Social Security Administration, to assist inmates in obtaining services they need upon release. As a result, when inmates need assistance, institutions are left to contact federal agencies on an ad hoc basis at the local level, such as by contacting a local Department of Veterans Affairs office to assist a veteran inmate who needs to reinstate benefits upon release. We believe that improved coordination with other federal agencies at the national level, as part of the RPP before inmates are released, would give inmates timely access to services that would assist them as they reenter society. 1 _________________

1 The OIG is separately auditing the BOP's management of inmate placement in RRCs. That audit’s preliminary objectives are to evaluate the BOP's RRC placement policy and practices, RRC capacity planning and management, and performance management and strategic planning regarding utilization of RRCs. ii

Finally, we found that the BOP does not currently collect comprehensive re-arrest data on its former inmates, has no performance metrics to gauge the RPP’s impact on recidivism, and does not currently make any attempt to link RPP efforts to recidivism. We also found that the BOP has not yet completed a recidivism analysis required by the Second Chance Act of 2007. Such analyses would help the BOP know whether the RPP is effectively accomplishing its objective of reducing recidivism.

Recommendations

We make seven recommendations in this report to improve the BOP’s RPP efforts. These include establishing a standardized list of courses to enhance the consistency of RPP curricula across the BOP, using validated assessment tools to assess specific inmate programming needs, using evaluation forms to collect inmate feedback about RPP courses to facilitate improvement, developing and implementing quality controls in RPP courses, exploring the use of incentives and other methods to increase inmate RPP participation and completion rates, engaging with other federal agencies to assess the feasibility and efficacy of establishing national memoranda of understanding to ensure inmates have timely and continuous access to federal services, and establishing a mechanism to assess the RPP’s success in providing inmates with relevant skills and knowledge that prepare them for successful reentry to society.

Read the complete report here.