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Section 4: Incentivizing Program Participation and Support

This section aims to help you understand how to support prosocial behavior through incentivizing program participation and mentoring. Often, the target population for in-jail and community interventions is resistant because of long histories of failed efforts in programs and ambivalence about change.

As Former Deputy Commissioner Kathleen Coughlin of the New York City Department of Corrections notes, incarcerated people have been disappointed numerous times before by the criminal justice and social service systems, and they are both “program-weary” and “program-wary.”

Your recruitment and retention efforts must take into account this resistance to programming, because limited outreach will undoubtedly result in low participation and completion rates.

Research indicates that incentives can motivate people to sign up and complete programs.

In-Jail incentives

  • Increased visitation
  • Later curfews for work release inmates
  • Later lock-in times
  • More phone access
  • More recreation time
  • More television
  • Movie nights
  • Access to more television channels
  • Certificates of completion
  • Letters of recognition
  • Graduation ceremonies
  • Improved housing assignments
  • Extra or early movement into community corrections
  • Good-time credits
  • Extra Food or snacks
  • Juice machines
  • Microwave
  • Hand Sanitizer

Community-Based incentives

  • Bus passes
  • Access to phone cards
  • Food vouchers
  • Special activities for people who participate in programs – donated by the community
  • Housing
  • Family reconciliation efforts
  • Certificates of completion
  • Letters of recognition
  • Being asked to serve as a mentor to other offenders
  • Reduction of supervision conditions
  • Early termination of supervision
  • Community recognition


Mentoring can help with successful reintegration by providing positive role models to people returning to the community. Ideally, individuals are paired with mentors during custody, with the intent of maintaining the relationship in the community after release. It is important to note that if former offenders are to be considered for this purpose, they must be well past their own criminal issues and have demonstrated consistent prosocial behavior over a significant period of time (generally understood to be a minimum of one-year). 

Though each mentor/mentee relationship is different, a successful mentor will have the following attributes:

  • Good listener
  • Positive role model
  • Has good boundaries
  • Communicates effectively
  • Understands the time commitment
  • Patient
  • Has knowledge and resources to help solve problems and address needs, within appropriate limits
  • Clear on the role and what they can and can't do (i.e., they know they're not a case manager)
  • Maintains contact and provides updates with the agency overseeing the mentoring program

Peer mentoring by previously incarcerated individuals or those in recovery who have turned their lives around and have maintained a prosocial lifestyle for an extended period since their offense can also serve an important role in the transition process. In fact, research has found that support from recovering peers may be more effective in reducing recidivism than support from clinical staff or correctional officers.1

You can't beat the credibility of an ex-offender when trying to show offenders how their lives can be different. They can look a prisoner in the eye and say, “I have been in your shoes.”

—Sheriff Michael Hennessey
San Francisco Sheriff's Department


Developing a mentoring program takes time, and a training program is required to teach volunteers how to mentor people while they are incarcerated and after release.
Following are a few recommendations:

  • Screen all mentors to ensure they have the appropriate demeanor, time commitment, and motivation to dedicate a minimum of one year working with a mentee.
  • Provide a mentor training program.
  • Provide ongoing support during the mentorship.

For more information and examples from the field

1. National Mentoring Partnership: Expanding the World of Quality Mentoring. Mentoring resources and information in the Program Resource section of this website.

2. SAMHSA. 2005. Successful Strategies for Recruiting, Training, and Utilizing Volunteers: A Guide for Faith- and Community-Based Service Providers.

3. San Diego County, CA. San Diego County presentation on Las Colinas Reentry Facility client flow.

4. Fresno County, CA. Fresno County TJC Unit Guidelines and Procedures (incentive structure described therein).


1 H. K. Wexler, “The Success of Therapeutic Communities for Substance Abusers in American Prisons,” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 27 (1995): 57–66.

Let's Review

Let's revisit what we have learned so far in the Targeted Transition Interventions module. Please answer the following question.

As resistance to intervention is highly likely among the jail population, it is important to incentivize participation.


In this section, you learned that incentivizing program participation and developing mentor/mentee relationships can increase the chance for a successful transitional from the jail to the community.