Health and Mental Health Services Vital to Successful Re-entry of Previously Incarcerated Individuals

Posted on June 30, 2016 by Quasia Cowan, Mahogany Kankam and Juliet Bui

Each year, more than 700,000 individuals, the vast majority of them men, return to communities throughout the U.S. after serving time in federal and state prisons, and another 11.4 million cycle through local jails. Research shows that, within three years of their release, as many as two-thirds of those who have completed their sentences are likely to be re-arrested, and within five years the proportion increases to three-fourths.

After being released, previously incarcerated individuals often face many barriers when re-entering society. With the lack of a competitive resume or employment credentials, income, housing, and health care, they find themselves facing many of the same risk factors that may have been contributing factors to conditions leading to their original offenses.

As we wrap up observances of Men’s Health Month this June, it is vital to remember the importance of providing previously incarcerated individuals with opportunities to successfully re-enter their communities. Doing so will require a commitment to improving employment prospects, but also a focus on behavioral health.

Studies show that the majority of people who are incarcerated meet the criteria for having a mental and/or substance use disorder:

  • 74% of state prisoners, 63% of federal prisoners, and 76% of jail inmates met the criteria for a mental health disorder;
  • An estimated 42% of state prisoners and 49% of jail inmates met the criteria for both a mental health and substance use disorder; and
  • 50% to 70% of those involved in the juvenile justice system met criteria for a mental disorder, and 60% met criteria for a substance use disorder.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Trauma and Justice Strategic Initiative addresses the behavioral health needs of people at risk or involved with the criminal and juvenile justice systems. A variety of strategies, such as community-based grant programs, policy academies, and training and technical assistance are used to reduce the consequences of repeated arrests, and improve the behavioral health of those involved in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. One of the most recent grant programs, the Offender Reentry Program (ORP), has been implemented to expand and enhance substance use disorder treatment for individuals using re-entry services. This grant has been designed to help adults with substance use disorders who have been released from jail or prison, successfully return to their families and communities.

The HHS Office of Minority Health is also committed to advancing health equity among previously incarcerated individuals through a new Re-Entry Resource Page and grant funding. A new grant program to assist formerly incarcerated individuals, the Re-Entry Community Linkages (RE-LINK) program which was announced earlier this year, is designed to improve health outcomes for minority re-entrants in transition from jail to their communities. This grant will help community-based organizations provide linkages to health care, including behavioral health services, health care coverage, and other social services, such as housing, adult education, and employment assistance programs.

For additional information and resources, visit SAMHSA’s Reentry Resources for Individuals, Providers, Communities and States page here.

For more information on the HHS Office of Minority Health, visit

For more information on SAMHSA, visit

Quasia Cowan and Mahogany Kankam are interns at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Juliet Bui, MSW, MPA, is a Public Health Advisor at the HHS Office of Minority Health.