The importance of community reintegration.

By Tony Kitchens


Reentry has long been the sole focus of many correctional departments, but reentry alone is not enough. Reentry is the process of reentering society. One can successfully achieve this, for example, by living under a bridge after being released from prison.

Reintegration is a more wholistic community-based process that involves a returning citizen transitioning from an antisocial member of society into an intrinsically motivated individual who controls and directs their own lives.

For the past 35 years, I have been on a quest to discover what it takes for a returning citizen to achieve successful community reintegration, and what I’ve found is that reentry isn’t enough to prevent recidivism – it is only a small part of the process of reintegrating.


The goal is to reduce recidivism and increase community productivity. Research dictates that successful community reintegration begins with quality In- Prison programs that address criminogenic risk factors together with community opportunities to help returning citizens obtain employment, connect with their
families, and rejoin their communities. 

The Prison Fellowship Academy® is one example of quality In-Prison programming. The Academy program takes incarcerated men and women through an intensive, long term, evidence-based curriculum that addresses six core values: responsibility, integrity, restoration, affirmation, and community productivity.

The Georgia Center for Opportunity is an example of an organization creating community opportunities with programs like Hiring Well Doing Good, Healthy Family Initiatives , and their overall push for criminal justice reform.

Organizations like the Georgia Center for Opportunity and Prison Fellowship are critical in creating opportunities for change and successful community reintegration efforts, helping the incarcerated person move from “returning citizen” to “restored citizen.”


Expanding the concept of prison ministry

Community is essential to reintegration, and Churches play a pivotal role in the community reintegration process. One initiative that I have undertaken has been to help position faith community leaders in this understanding and to transform their approach into a community-based process that encompasses all those who have been impacted by crime, not just the returning citizen.

In expanding the focus from reentry to include reintegration, one place to look is prison ministry. Prison ministries originated out of seminaries who sent their students and seminarians to practice preaching at the prisons. This opportunity, no doubt, ministered to the hearts of the incarcerated, but it also set in motion an understanding that prison ministry existed only to those confined inside prison walls.

For 15 years, I have worked to expand the understanding of prison ministry towards what is now known as Correctional ministry.

Correctional Ministry is a broader umbrella that encompasses the prison ministries and expands it to the community at large. It also involves the educating of children and family members of the incarcerated, as well as correctional professionals.

For example, starting with the members within a congregation allows for a Pastor to move into correctional ministry from a low-risk point of engagement. In my experience, many Pastors are reluctant to become involved in correctional ministry because of their lack of understanding of the returning citizen. Supporting the family members, who are typically experiencing shame and guilt, provides the family member with the resources, the emotional and spiritual support to help their loved ones who have encountered the justice system.

By ministering to the broader community and being involved in the comprehensive aspects of community reintegration, correctional ministry lays the groundwork for reintegration that makes the successful transition back into society more practical and attainable for the returning citizen.

 The importance of telling their stories

I believe in the power of the story.

Stories are about our unique experiences; about our dreams and aspirations. Stories are what connect us.

I know of many returning citizens who have been able to turn their life around by listening and sharing stories of hope and triumph.

These success stories, many in progress, are all around us. Just one example isTruth Graf, who I met while I was on the advisory board of the National Incarceration Association.

I’m confident that by relating these stories of the experiences of the formerly incarcerated, we can have a profound effect on recidivism. When we expand our focus to see reentry to community reintegration as a connected process, we can sustain safer and productive communities. The success I’ve seen, with organizations like the Georgia Center for Opportunity and Prison Fellowship, provides hope and opportunity. There is still much work to be done in creating communities that are places of how collaboration, and opportunity for all those who have been impacted by the justice system– and I won’t stop advocating for it.

Tony Kitchens is currently a board member of the Georgia Center for Opportunity and Georgia Field Director for Prison Fellowship. He has also worked with the Georgia Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry, the Georgia Department of Corrections, and the Georgia Department of Community Supervisions. He is a husband, father and, most recently, a grandfather.


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