Can community-centered re-entry reduce recidivism?

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By Christopher Moraff, reporting fellow at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Next City

During his speech this month at the annual gathering of the NAACP in Philadelphia, President Barack Obama exposed one of the fundamental challenges to reforming our broken criminal justice system when he observed that justice is “not only the absence of oppression, it is the presence of opportunity.”

The message here is simple: While the process of reversing the tide of mass casino incarceration may start at the prison gates, it succeeds or fails in America’s cities and towns — where roughly 700,000 returning inmates each year confront a complex array of barriers that impede their return to society.

The Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute has spent more than a decade documenting ways of addressing these challenges, and in 2008, it put those lessons to the test with an five-year pilot program known as the Safer Return Demonstration, which focused on inmates returning to a small area of West Chicago.

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