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WASHINGTON, D.C., February 27, 2008—Most former prisoners grapple with health problems while trying to make the already-difficult transition back into the community, says a new Urban Institute report.
The study, by Kamala Mallik-Kane and Christy A. Visher, finds that returning prisoners with physical, mental, or substance-abuse conditions have more trouble than other ex-prisoners refraining from committing new crimes or staying out of prison, and many fare poorly in finding housing and employment. Most returning prisoners carry the extra burden of illness, for more than 80 percent in the study report having at least one chronic physical, mental, or substance-abuse problem.
Especially challenged are former prisoners with mental health conditions, who report higher rates of homelessness, lower likelihood of employment, and more criminal behavior than their peers without mental illness. Women returning from prison, especially those with mental illness or substance-abuse problems, say Mallik-Kane and Visher, face an extra barrier: they are less likely than men to receive vital housing and financial assistance from family after leaving prison.
"Women, even those who are perfectly healthy, generally have a harder time than men completing a successful return," says Visher. "When mentally ill or substance-using women can't count on their families for support after release, they fall even farther behind the typical ex-prisoner in establishing a steady post-prison life."
The report includes recommendations for policymakers and practitioners. "Given that health problems influence reentry outcomes, and that nearly all returning prisoners have health issues, an assessment of health needs should be part of each individual's reentry planning process," write the authors.
Mallik-Kane and Visher note the importance of arranging continuous, adequate medical care for ex-prisoners with health conditions, not just to keep them healthy, but also to maintain or improve their ability to earn income and afford stable housing. They also cite family support as a key resource to realistically assess with each returning prisoner, and they recommend including family members in reentry planning.
"Health problems among ex-prisoners are common, but the effects of those conditions on reentry vary widely. Our findings can help inform policymakers and practitioners, but they cannot take the place of individual, client-centered discharge planning," cautions Mallik-Kane.
The study, "Health and Prisoner Reentry: How Physical, Mental, and Substance Abuse Conditions Shape the Process of Reintegration," surveyed 1,100 men and women from Ohio and Texas who were released from prison in 2004 and 2005. The report was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the JEHT Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, the George Gund Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, and the Houston Endowment. The report is available at http://www.urban.org/url.cfm?ID=411617.
The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation.