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This research introduces new ways of theorizing prisoner reentry work. To date, little work has investigated service providers who work with ex-offenders as they return from prison. Reentry service providers make a compelling case for the examination of the influences of law, organization policy, and personal values since reentry service providers’ decision-making processes and resulting actions at the micro-level often determine the services received by clients and client outcomes. Drawing on data collected between 2013-2016, including in-depth interviews (35), job shadowing (120+ hours), and field observations (140+ hours) of pre- and post-release corrections and reentry assistance programs and service providers, this study demonstrates the construction of prisoner reentry. ☐ Reentry service providers express competing perceptions of their roles and goals and of effective services and definitions of success. They also express competing understandings of prisoner reentry laws and policies and conceptions of justice and fairness. My analysis demonstrates the need to recognize reentry as shaped by the workgroup of professionals and volunteers who put policy into practice. I show that service providers’ legal consciousness is fluid, polyvocal, and situated by their positionality and perceptions. Service providers’ competing conceptions of justice and fairness can result in what I term “justice dissonance.” Justice dissonance requires adaptations which shape the way reentry service providers do their job. It can also negatively impact service providers’ perceptions of legitimacy and can result in efforts to change policy through formal means or through policy violations. In addition to the competing rule enforcer and social work roles already documented in the literature, service providers who experience justice dissonance may take on the roles of bureaucratic survivalists and what I term “underground advocates” and “vocational phoenixes.”


Criminology and Criminal Justice


University of Delaware