Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Survey: Family best ally for successful post-prison reentry

Results from three new surveys by the Urban Institute provide a lot of new detail and analysis regarding barriers to successful reentry for prisoners returning from TDCJ to Houston. See their recent reports:
To point out just a handful of notable survey-based findings from the longitudinal study of returning male prisoners:
In terms of supporting themselves financially, men left prison with thousands of dollars of debt, and many faced challenges in seeking employment due to lack of photo identification and the existence of a criminal record. Despite these challenges, three out of five men were employed by eight to ten months out, and most of them reported that their employer was aware of their criminal record.
Overall, "the strongest predictor of employment success over time was avoidance of drug use early after release."

I was also interested to learn that, at least according this survey, most offenders were gainfully employed before they went in
The majority (69 percent) of men reported legal employment in the six months before entering prison or jail. Nevertheless, nearly a third (29 percent) reported receiving some income from illegal activity in the six months before incarceration, and 18 percent received most or all of their income from illegal activity during this time.
The survey also found a marked disparity in recidivism rates between state jail felons and prisoners in TDCJ's institutional division:
An important thread that runs through all of these findings is that of the striking difference in the reentry challenges, experiences, and outcomes between men released from state prisons and those released from state jails. In Texas, convicted felons sentenced to two or more years in prison are housed in state prisons, while lower-level offenders serve time in state jails, which primarily house drug and property offenders and probation violators. Men exiting from state jails have more extensive histories of substance use, are less likely to have received programming of any kind either before or after release, and are more likely to engage in postrelease substance use. Despite these deficits, state jail releasees are less likely to be returned to confinement in a year’s time, possibly because unlike those exiting prison, they are not under any form of postrelease supervision that might serve to detect violations or new crimes.
The first night out of prison can become a key stumbling block to successful reentry for prisoners without family support or a home to go to, particularly among returning state jail felons:
Unfortunately, the men interviewed for this study had few resources with which to navigate the challenges they faced during the first few hours after their release. Many men (73 percent) had only one set of street clothing, and fewer than two in five (37 percent) had a non-TDCJ photo identification at the time of release. Men exiting state prison left with $50 in gate money, while those exiting state jails were not provided with any cash assistance, relying instead on whatever funds they had in their prison accounts. The typical exiting prisoner had just $7 in account funds, and the average state jail inmate had $18 in account funds.

The first challenge faced by many men following their release was transportation. While exactly half of men had someone to meet them at the time of their release, the other half left the facility alone. Just over half (54 percent) reported that they had been given a bus ticket, voucher, or money for transportation on the day of their release, and roughly one in four (28 percent) traveled away from the facility by bus.

Another immediate challenge was finding a place to sleep. Figure 3 shows where former prisoners and state jail inmates slept on the first night after release. While the majority (60 percent) stayed in a family member’s home, about one in four stayed in their own home. Those exiting state jail, however, were much more likely to have spent their first night in some form of temporary housing, such as a motel, boarding house, shelter, halfway house, or treatment facility (13 percent of state jail releasees versus 4 percent of state prisoners).
Seldom heard in discussions about recidivism is how much money many inmates owe when they get out of the state lockup, and how that debt burden can hinder their ability to get back on their feet, particularly (if, to me, somewhat inexplicably) for state jail felons:
The men in this study left prison with many financial obligations, both new and old. Most (62 percent) owed at least one form of debt at the time of release, and all faced challenges in meeting their basic needs—including housing, food, clothing, and transportation. On average, state prisoners owed about $643 and state jail inmates owed about $3,000 in the first few months after release. By eight to ten months out, the average debt had increased to $900 for state prisoners and $8,254 for state jail inmates. These debts included fines, restitution, court costs, supervision fees, and child support, with the latter two being the most common forms of debt owed.
I don't understand why debts for state jail felons would be so much higher than those coming out of regular prisons. More must be going on there than meets they eye.

Finally, and quite remarkably, family support was identified the biggest factor predicting successful reentry, contrary to offenders' expectations when they left prison:
When asked shortly before release which factors would be important in keeping them out of prison, men cited employment and housing more frequently than family support. However, when asked at eight to ten months after release which factor had been most important in keeping them out of prison, men were more likely to choose family support than any other factor
I think it's often assumed that inmates come from dysfunctional families and that returning to that environment may actually contribute to recidivism. But these data indicate that maintaining family ties offers the best chance for ex-prisoners to succeed, making inmates' families a key, under-appreciated and underutilized resource for preventing future crimes by former prisoners.


Anonymous said...

I agree that family support is the most helpful form of support for released prisoners. The problem the State has is that they are not supposed to discriminate. Relying upon family support in parole decision making discriminates against the "orphan" prisoner.

The State should focus on replicating family support on behalf of the "orphan" and needy prisoners to improve public safety.

Debt burdens are subject to a statute of limitations. TDCJ inmates may serve longer sentences thereby eliminating debt that was incurred prior to incarceration.

Hook Em Horns said...

Of course the family is the best ally! No one else has a greater vested interest in the success of these folks.

Anonymous said...

I wish mine was coming home. Pity he has to sit in a halfway house for months for the Interstate Compact to go through.

You'd think by know they might have invented things like pdfs, faxes, and telephones to get the job done a little quicker.

Who says technology is a friend to bureaucracy? I think it just makes them mad.

Anonymous said...

For many years I have observed a pattern in released prisoners. Many women find a predator to be extremely appealing. They are often exceptionally loyal to their criminal when he is incarcerated and send him money, etc. Some of these women would not give an honest man the time of day.

Many predators take advantage of this situation and when they are released quickly take these gullible, infatuated women for a ride. These stories are often similar in various cases. This can make for an unstable release homelife for the returning prisoner and contribute to his return to crime.

Other women are so excited by predators that they go to some length to seek out a prisoner and send him money and profess their love. They are convinced that he loves them and they are thrilled that he is not stepping out with other women. He may recieve mail from several of these women at the same time. Since her every waking thought is on her man, she believes he is spending all his hours dwelling on her. She actually believes this situation will continue when he hits the streets. It gets interesting about 48 hours after he enters the house.

sunray's wench said...

Anon 8.38 ~ nothing in Grit's post refers to women who seek out inmates as potential partners, so why refer to it here? The report is focused on inmates families, and the majority of those existed before the person's incarceration.

Grits said: "I don't understand why debts for state jail felons would be so much higher than those coming out of regular prisons. More must be going on there than meets they eye."

Anon 1:12 thinks the same as me, that TDCJ offenders are sentenced to longer terms, so any official debts get either written off because of the existing sentence, or run out of time to be prosecuted. State jail inmates only do the max of 2 years, which isn't long enough for all debts to be written off. I suspect that State jail inmates are more vigorously pursued for child support than TDCJ inmates who sit in prison for 20 years + as well.

Anonymous said...

8:38 -

Yep, men and women sure can get in some tangled messes of destructive relationships. Just ask Gov. Mark Sanford of SC. And none of the players in that little drama were even in prison (yet)!

Anonymous said...

Texas could do alot more to help foster stronger family support by starting while the offender is still incarcerated. TDCJ's visitation policy does nothing to foster strong families. A 2-hr visitation with a requirement that spouses and children be made to stay in one seat for the duration of the visit does nothing to foster good communication and/or a healthy family environment. If other states can be successful at expanded visitation, Texas ought to take notice and follow suit.