Elena Vanko. Step-down Programs and Transitional Units: A Strategy to End Long-term Restrictive Housing. New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2019.
This policy brief, written by the Vera Institute of Justice focuses on step-down programs (SDP) and transitional units (TU), strategies corrections systems can use to help incarcerated people who have spent long periods of time in restrictive housing successfully transition back to a prison or jail’s general population, and to provide an effective pathway out of restrictive housing in order to ensure people do not spend prolonged periods in harmful, isolating conditions. Over the past several years, numerous corrections systems have created some form of step-down or transitional program, but these programs can differ greatly in their operation and outcomes.
This brief examines the goals of SDPs and TUs, various ways in which they can operate, key components of effective programs, and common pitfalls that should be avoided. It also provides real-world examples of promising aspects some systems have employed in their programs.
If they are carefully designed and implemented, transitional units and step-down programs can be effective strategies to avoid long-term placements in restrictive housing and to help people transition successfully back to general population and, ultimately, the community.
Keywords: step-down programs, transitional units, SDP, TU, reentry, re-entry, programming, Colorado, Maine, North Dakota, Virginia, North Carolina, Elena Vanko