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A general blueprint for creating a reentry program, based on patterns I identified while interviewing several people who run reentry programs in Upstate New York.

To read more about my research, go to the page About ReentryToolsNY.

Updated 6/19/22

The purpose of the Guidebook

While interviewing people who created reentry programs in Upstate NY, I noticed four patterns in their journeys to create these programs. Several programs had to answer some of the same questions, build some of the same forms, figure out the same processes - they followed some of the same steps when creating their program. Here I've written out each pattern as a step toward creating a program. I explain each step, what it means, why other people completed that step, some of the benefits, and then give several examples of the different ways these programs fulfilled that step.


There are several ways you could read this Guidebook:

No matter who you are, this guide is meant for you to take whatever may be helpful and adapt it to your own community. 


*DISLAIMER* This Guidebook is not quantitatively evidenced-based from a formal program evaluation. . This is a blueprint for how you could create a reentry program, based on my qualitative research of several programs in Upstate using empirically validated methods. The evidence from my research is listed for each 'step'. Read about the methodology of my research here.

Step-by-Step Blueprint 

These steps aren't always done in this order, but they are loosely organized chronologically. Feel free to skip around to what interests you and what would be most helpful depending on your prior experience.


Each step also includes considerations for these areas:


  • Building support: Building support for a program can be difficult. There's a lot of negative mindsets about justice-involved people and the programs to help them (such as 'not in my backyard!' and similar slogans) and receiving funding can be a huge challenge. So, getting people to see the value of your program is hugely important. A lot of programs work on this at every stage of their program. For several steps I've included some ways other programs have built support and engaged stakeholders and allies.   


  • Don’t reinvent the wheel: Why do extra work to completely re-do something that's already been done, rather than learning about what's already been done and improving it? Across all the programs I researched, there are ways they did or could utilize existing resources to make the process more efficient and successful. Why create all new forms from scratch when there are templates you could adapt to your program and improve from there? For each step below, I've detailed how you can avoid doing tons of extra work when something helpful already exists.


Anything that looks like this is a link that will open in a new window! In each Example, the page on this website that explains that program is linked.


"Target Population": This is the group of people the program wants to reach or serve.


"Needs Assessment": (in formal research) A formal needs assessment is a systematic, research-based investigation of the needs of some group of people. These 'needs' are the gap between the desired condition and the current condition.


"Recidivism": the rate of reoffense, or return to crime. Can be measured in different ways, such as the the rate of rearrest for people who have been incarcerated, or the rate of returning to jail after incarceration.


"Justice-involved": A broad term for people who have been involved in the criminal justice system in some way. This could be arrested, prosecuted, convicted, served jail time, received probation or parole, etc.


"Service Providers": a broad term for people who provide some kind of service, usually social services, to a community

Assess the Needs
(and identify gaps)

This is where a lot of reentry programs in Upstate started. First, they figured out what the major needs were in their community. Then, they focused on what needs weren't being met - these are the 'gaps' they could fill.

 You might already have a specific population in mind you want to work with - then you'll focus on them. If not, you'll want to learn about your whole community. 

Purpose: The goal is to learn what do people need, and why? What needs are not being met? Where are the gaps in services? In programs? In support? This allows you to get an idea of what agencies and organizations are currently doing, and if it's meeting the needs. For example, do you have a high level of homelessness and not enough housing programs? Or do you have a lot of people in recovery, and a lot of inpatient/rehab clinics, but not enough outpatient clinics or recovery centers? 

  • Some example questions to guide a needs assessment: What are the needs of people in 'X' community (could be Erie County, could be Washington County Jail, etc)? What does this population look like? ​Are a lot of them homeless? Do a lot of them need government benefits like SNAP, mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, or parenting resources? What's the age distribution? Are most of them older, younger, do they have kids, do they have family support? Are most of them sentenced locally, or are they coming from other places (this can indicate if they will be released to the community, or be released elsewhere)?


Why do this? When creating a new program or updating an existing one, you want to make sure you're addressing a need that actually exists and the program will be responding to needs in the community. Basing a new program or program expansion on an existing need ensures the effectiveness and efficiency of your program. You might not want to dedicate a lot of resources for a parenting program for jail inmates if most of the jail population doesn't have kids. But, if your community has a lot of parents who are justice-involved or have histories of incarceration, a parenting program may be in high demand.


Building support for the program: If you're able to show that you'll be responding to a demonstrated need, especially if you'll be meeting a need that contributes to recidivism and therefore potentially impacting recidivism in the community, you may be more likely to gain support from correctional agencies, law enforcement, or community supervision (probation/parole), and to get funding for the program.


Don’t reinvent the wheel: First, find out if this information exists somewhere. Does your local county jail track any information on incoming inmates? Does the local Department of Social Services keep track of the needs of people who apply for services? Is there an agency in your community who has done a needs assessment recently? Sometimes the information you want is out there, it's just not publicly available, hasn't been published, or no one is doing anything with it. Also, you can get some of this information by talking with people who work with your potential target population. 


Examples from my research:

  • Albany County Jail: for everyone newly booked into the jail, a clinician performs a comprehensive needs assessment about their needs at that moment. This is both to connect them with services in the jail, and to inform their reentry plan. Are they homeless? Do they have a substance abuse disorder? Would they like recovery services in the jail and/or when they're released? Do they have mental health needs? Then, they can keep track of the changing needs of this population in Albany, AND update their services in the jail to best address the current needs. For example, if the population in 2022 is younger than usual and less likely to have finished high school, they can focus on educational programs. 

  • ABLE Case Management in Warren County: The idea for ABLE came from a SIM workshop - a partnership between several local agencies, funded by a larger agency, and led by a national agency. In the SIM they did a needs assessment and some statistical modeling, and determined reentry programs and services for people coming out of the local jail were a HUGE gap. The SIM identified 'low-hanging fruit' - easy programs to implement to start filling the gaps immediately. Reentry coordination was one of them!

  • Schenectady Community Fathers program: Needs assessments don't need to be an entire, formal process either - Community Fathers was started by a group of fathers with histories of justice involvement who were missing support. They identified this gap in their community through direct experience, and decided to create a program to fill it.

  • Saratoga County Jail's CRPA Initiative: Similarly to Schenectady, the CRPA Initiative started from personal experience. While being incarcerated at Saratoga County Jail, Ben Deeb knew there were no services to help him leave jail successfully. He built the program he needed - and it grew and evolved as more community members asked for his services, identifying their own needs.

Connect with and learn about local agencies, services, and people

Every person I interviewed specifically talked about the importance and the major role of connections with other agencies, other providers working in the community, and people doing advocacy or volunteer work in the field.

Collaboration is key!

These connections give a better understanding for the needs assessment, build alliances that can fill gaps better than any agency could on their own, and expand the support that can be offered to the justice-involved.

Potential connections: The local Department of Social Services and what programs they connect people to, homeless shelters, Halfway Houses, rehab centers, outpatient substance abuse clinics, recovery centers, community centers, community agencies like the YMCA and Salvation Army, local libraries and what services they have, and of course: other reentry programs in your area!


Purpose: Talking with people from other agencies is important in so many ways:

  • Allows for a deeper, more detailed needs assessment - they have information on the needs they see, data on the population they work with, and information on the services they provide to fill needs in the community

  • To make sure you don't create a program that duplicates something that already exists

  • Knowing what services/programs/agencies you may want to connect justice-involved people with

  • Support among providers in their work: you can always learn from other programs and providers,


Don’t reinvent the wheel: A program should always be connected to other programs. Through connections with other agencies, other programs, and other people, a program can only improve, a person can learn more, and the services you could connect a client to expands. Don't reinvent the wheel with your own program by ignoring the incredible work being done around you! Also, don't feel like you need to do a ton of research on your own to identify the people and agencies you might want to collaborate with. Is there a list somewhere of all the social service agencies in your area? Maybe the Department of Social Services or the local Office of Community Services has it, maybe there's already a reentry coordinator at the jail or in the community who maintains this list, or the jail social worker has a list. Is there a community group or meeting that brings together people who work with the justice-involved in your community? Does a substance abuse agency maintain a list of all the recovery resources in the area, and maybe a mental health agency maintains a list of mental health resources?, a list of social service agencies in NYS, can be a great resource if it is actively maintained.


Building support: This can help you identify what agencies you might want to build a relationship with. Relationships with other agencies can be very helpful - if they know and trust you, they may be more likely to take referrals from you or understand the situation of people you may send their way. 


Examples from my research: All the programs I’ve interviewed are based on a foundation of knowledge of community resources, as well as relationships with lots of different people. That way they can connect clients with a variety of other services, expand their own knowledge and skills, and collaborate. 

  • The CRPA in Saratoga County Jail, Ben Deeb, is constantly talking with tons of people, agencies, and providers. His relationships with Halfway Houses, landlords, and treatment program directors means he can make direct bed-to-bed transfers for jail inmates, both as Alternatives to Incarceration and upon their release.

  • Albany County Jail's Assistant Director of Programs maintains a list of all the programs and services in the area (New Beginnings Resource Guide), and she talks to these providers often to keep the list updated. Her connection with agencies allows her to make the best possible referral for a reentry client because she really knows the agencies and the services they provide.

  • In Warren County, Amanda Zeno of the ABLE reentry program maintains excellent knowledge of the current services, programs, and agencies in the area - including what groups are currently running and what treatment providers or shelters have openings. Warren County also has a Criminal Justice/Community Services Task Force that brings together treatment providers, social service agencies, law enforcement, and corrections in a monthly meeting. The Task Force also created a list of all the organizations in the area!

  • The Jail Ministry, ABLE Program, and Walk With Me program in Broome County all maintain regular connections and collaborations with as many agencies as they can. Jeff Pryor from ABLE is able to make direct referrals, and some bed-to-bed transfers, for clients in Broome County Jail because he knows the people who run those programs personally and professionally. Cris Mogenson at the Ministry has brought in tons of different community agencies, churches, and volunteers to run programs and groups in the jail. Rozann Greco of Walk With Me partners with community agencies, local advocates, and volunteers for programs in the jail and community.

Target Population or Target Work

Now that you have a sense of the needs in your community, the gaps in services, and the other people working in the field, you can can decide a) who you want to work with and b) what you want to do.


Purpose: Now that you know the gaps in need and the services that exist...


  • Is there a population you really want to work with or who is especially under-served?

    • examples: currently or formerly incarcerated folks, parolees or probationers, people at risk of incarceration, adult men, young women, senior citizens, a specific gender, immigrants, lower-income families?

  • Is there a type of work/program you want to do, have done before, or feel qualified to do?

    • examples: meditation or yoga, cooking classes, medication management, reentry coordination (discharge planning), parenting classes, recovery coaching, mentoring, Life Skills training, AA or NA meetings?​


You can consider the gaps in services you've seen, your education, skill-set, and experience, your passion and what you like to do, what group of people you could access. See the next box for more info on accessing a population.


Don’t reinvent the wheel: Find out if anyone is already working with your target population, and if you could join them. Are any agencies who work with your target population looking for someone to hire? Is your local jail looking for a reentry case manager/reentry coordinator? Could you pitch your idea to someone who already works with the population?


Examples from my research:

  • Albany County Jail's reentry infrastructure began when Elena Kilcullen did research as a social work student and identified a gap. Albany was missing a coordinator, someone to bring together all the services and organizations that already existed, and help people navigate them. She decided she had the passion, drive, and mindset to do it.

  • Example: Albany County Jail's program began when Elena decided who she wanted to work with and what she wanted to do, and pitched the idea to the Sheriff. He loved it and the research she had to back it up, and hired her on the spot.

  • Darby, the creator of this website, decided I wanted to help people coming out of jail be successful and make their transition to the community less stressful. I researched the services in my community and found Warren County's ABLE Program. I contacted Amanda, who ran it, to see if she would meet with me to talk about the program and consider taking on an intern/volunteer.

  • Saratoga's Ben Deeb has an incredible passion and drive to work with people who are going through what he went through - to provide the services he needed to leave jail successfully and stay in recovery. He combined his passion with work in recovery, training as a CRPA, research on the needs in the community and the state, and the connections he needed to start a comprehensive program. 

How will you gain access to your target population?

When deciding the target population for your program, you must also consider who you could access. If you want to work with currently incarcerated folks, how will you interact with this population? If you want to work with parents who have a history of incarceration, how will you get in contact with them? There are ways to 

Some ideas for connecting with certain populations:

  • People recently released from incarceration:

    • ​You could make a flyer and leave it in the jail lobby, or give flyers about your program to the jail social worker or medical staff, you could give flyers to the Department of Social Services and ask them to direct people who come to DSS right from jail to your program, or set up a relationship with parole and probation to refer clients to you.

  • Currently incarcerated: ​

    • Form a relationship with the local jail so you can go in and meet with folks, try to connect with family members of people who are currently incarcerated and offer to go in as a Visitor to see their family member, ​

Examples from my research: The programs I’ve interviewed gained access to the population somehow - some made themselves known in the community working directly with people and local shelters/agencies, some partnered with community supervision, some pitched the idea to the jail to become integrated with the jail.


  • Saratoga's reentry program started out with Ben meeting with inmates during visitation. When the jail saw the progress he was making, the Sheriff met with him and offered him a position in the jail. He and Healing Springs, the agency that pays half his salary and hosts him when he's not in the jail, made a video about the CRPA Initiative to play in the jail.

  • with people in the community requesting Ben to meet with their incarcerated family member and inmates discussing the program in the jail and asking their family members to reach out to Ben​


  • Reentry Columbia, a reentry program operating in Columbia County, NY, is an incredible example - they've reached people in a variety of different ways. At first, the program couldn't access people while they were incarcerated. So, they worked in the community with people the minute they were released. Eventually they proved they were a necessary program that was really helping people, and the jail welcomed them to work inside. 

    • They still work with formerly incarcerated people as well as currently incarcerated folks. To connect with people in the community, they advertise their services at the Department of Social Services and dozens of local social service, mental health, and recovery agencies. Before the pandemic they also met regularly with all new parolees and probationers to explain and offer their services.​

Standardize your forms!

You'll need standardized forms you can use for every client, every time. This ensures you get all the information you want to when you meet with a client, you get all the necessary consents or releases you may use signed, and you never forget things.

Purpose: To make sure you don't forget any questions, you get all the information you need, and you have the same information for everyone, you'll want standardized forms. To do this, you'll need forms you have ready, easy access to so you can quickly work with clients and outside agencies, and to protect yourself and your clients. 

Some examples of forms you may need:

  • HIPAA consent form: to protect yourself and your clients information, this is a form that states you will only share their information with people they have given you permission to talk with (

  • Releases of Information: this form gives you explicit permission from a client to speak with an outside person about the client's information (see the example used at Saratoga County)

  • Referral forms: This could be forms for other agencies to refer people to your program, or a form for you to refer people to other programs

  • Intake/Assessment: This would be the questions you'd ask and information you get from new clients

  • Informational Sheet: info on your program to give potential clients and other agencies

Don’t reinvent the wheel: Why do all the extra work to create a form from scratch, guessing what you'll need, when you could look at an example and adapt it to your needs? This will reduce the time it takes to build the form, and other people who have been using that form for a while have already edited the form to fit their needs. Take a look at the some of the examples on this website (Resources)! Talk to people doing similar work, whether they're in your area or not, and see if they have tips for you or could share examples of their forms with you. 

Why do this and building support: Standardized forms make processes and data much more organized. More organized programs are more likely to be well-received in the community and more likely to get funding. Plus, being more organized and having ways to keep yourself accountable and make sure you're checking all the right boxes makes the process easier and less stressful for you.

Examples from my research:

The programs I researched used standardized forms so they didn't miss any information, collected the same information in the same way every time, and always had the proper documentation. 

  • Warren County's ABLE and Saratoga's CRPA Initiative use a standardized form for their assessments of new clients so they don't miss any information. It's not that easy to get in touch with somebody in jail, so you want to make sure you get all the information you'll need the first time. 


Most of the programs I interviewed created their own forms from scratch - taking a long time and guessing at what they might need. Their work can now be your resources!

  • Warren County's ABLE program created Releases of Information that have one page for each agency that Amanda would like to communicate with, with a signature from the client on each page. She quickly realized she needed releases for a LOT of agencies - and ended up trying to stuff 10+ papers under a door in the jail to hand them to an officer, who then has to stand there while the client signs 10+ pieces of paper. So she created one release of information page that can include lots of different agencies - making the process much faster. If she had access to another jail program's releases, she may have seen that they consolidate the pages into one and saved the initial headache.

  • For Albany County's New Beginnings program, Elena did multiple semesters of research across tons of different literature and research manuscripts to identify the most prominent needs for people coming out of jail to develop her intake and assessment forms. The categories on her forms represent years of research, and now years of implementation in her program with constant editing to update them. 

Consider the context:
Hidden Sentences and Collateral Consequences

Having a criminal record in the U.S. comes with a lot of baggage, and the world will treat you differently. There are two concepts I'd like to highlight that become extremely important for justice-involved people and should be kept in mind in a reentry program: Hidden Sentences and Collateral Consequences. 

Hidden sentences are "any punishment imposed by law as a direct result of criminal status, but not as part of a formally recognized, judge-issued sentence" - this means ​any law that restricts the rights of or punishes someone specifically because they have a criminal record, but the punishment is not given to them in court or by a judge, as part of their actual sentence for the crime they committed (Kaiser 2016). They're like extra punishments, and they're imposed by people other than the sentencing judge in charge of someone's case. Most people don't know anything about them - until you have a criminal record and try to do something, only to find you can't. 'Hidden' means most people don't know about them, no one tells the people they punish about them, and they aren't part of any formal sentence that you would know about or be able to fight. Most hidden sentences are based on conviction - meaning they apply equally for people who have served 30 years in prison, people who served 6 months in jail, and people who received probation. This also means these laws are for anyone with a conviction at any point in their lifetime - including something that happened 50 years ago, or when someone was 18. There are about 2,100 hidden sentences per state directed at people who have been incarcerated.

Collateral consequences refers to the long list of consequences that may stem from incarceration or a criminal record on top of the legal punishments directly handed to a person. This includes the legal restrictions and hidden sentences, like being banned from government programs and jobs, but also the less formal consequences not imposed as a sentence or by a law. These can include lost wages while incarcerated, negative impacts of incarceration on family relationships, friends, and one's children, and the impact in entire communities of incarceration and high levels of incarceration in specific communities. These can also include the emotional and mental health-related effects of incarceration. See the article The Cycle of Stress, Violence, and Mental Health on this website for some of the research on the impacts of incarceration on mental health.

These are things a reentry program must keep in mind, as they impact every facet of a person's life when they have a criminal record. If you're trying to connect incarcerated people with services post-release, you'll need to know if they're barred from certain types of housing or benefit programs. If you're trying to help someone with a criminal record get a job, you'll need to understand and help them through the process when they are barred from certain jobs or experience discrimination

Examples in my research: 

Interestingly, in my interview project no one specifically mentioned hidden sentences or collateral consequences. However, many programs I researched had components that specifically addressed many of the emotional collateral consequences of incarceration.

  • Saratoga County's Ben Deeb started a criminal and addictive thinking course to help incarcerated folks understand , cope with, and change the ways their thinking and behavior patterns changed as a result of their incarceration.

  • The Warren County ABLE program has a recovery group where participants talk about the impact of incarceration and how the ways they will need to cope with the transition from jail to the community and stay in recovery.

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