One in 100 adults in the United States are currently in jail or prison, equaling over 2.2 million individuals. Around 600,000 of those individuals are released from state and federal prisons every year. Unfortunately, these returning citizens are met with a system that has set them up to fail. Most of these individuals are determined to never go back, but the immobilizing challenges that they meet make it difficult, if not impossible, to be successfully reintegrated into society. The recidivism rate in the United States is the highest it has ever been at 44% nationally. We need to find and fix what we are doing wrong for the sake of returning citizens and our communities.

This qualitative content analysis was conducted to give voice to people with experience in the criminal justice system. The overarching question that guided this research was “what are the most prominent challenges that returning individuals face when they are released from prison?” The findings revealed that problems with reentry stemmed from a lifetime of challenges. These challenges were organized and coded into four categories: traumatic lives, prison and jail experiences, procedural justice, and the reentry process. The paper closes with a discussion about policy implications based on the issues returning citizens face.

Semester/Year of Award

Fall 2023


Betsy Matthews

Mentor Department Affiliation

Justice Studies

Access Options

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Honors Scholars

Degree Level



Justice Studies