urban institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

Experiences of Exprisoners in Houston Analyzed in New Reports

Document date: June 22, 2009
Released online: June 24, 2009

Contact: Elizabeth Cronen, (202) 261-5723, ecronen@urban.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 22, 2009—One in five of the 70,000 men and women released annually from Texas's state prisons return to metropolitan Houston. Four new reports from the Urban Institute analyze their experiences from the perspective of their families, their communities, and the former prisoners themselves.

Residents in the neighborhoods with the greatest concentration of returning prisoners, along with local officials, advocates, service providers, and others concerned about public safety, told researchers that housing and employment were paramount for former prisoners' success on the outside. Community representatives also reported a need for more educational opportunities, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, and job-search instruction both during and after incarceration.

These views are supported by the researchers' data analysis, finding that women who participated in a pre-release program and those who had a GED or high school diploma were less likely to return to prison. Similarly, men who obtained a GED while behind bars and those who participated in job programs soon after their release were more likely to be employed for long periods of time, as were those who avoided substance abuse in the early months following their release.

The Houston research also highlights the importance of family support and social programs in helping returning prisoners stay employed and avoid reoffending. The researchers found that women with more financial assistance and emotional support from their families were less likely to return to prison in the year following release. However, there was no relationship between family support and avoiding drugs or alcohol after release. Men with minor children, families who helped with their transition, and ties to a faith institution were less likely to return to prison in a year's time. Men whose family members provided housing and financial assistance were also less likely to use drugs frequently.

"These findings," says lead researcher Nancy La Vigne, "indicate that coordinating and supporting family involvement through in-prison visits and family conferencing can help prevent former prisoners from another stint behind bars."

This research underscores the potential benefits of enhancing GED programs, providing support and counseling for families of former prisoners, and offering more community-based employment services for the formerly incarcerated. The authors note that former prisoners who lack family support need more comprehensive housing, education, and employment services, along with the emotional support they might find in a church or other community-based entity.

The four reports, available at http://www.urban.org/justice/corrections.cfm, are "Prisoner Reentry in Houston: Community Perspectives," "When Relatives Return: Interviews with Family Members of Returning Prisoners in Houston, Texas," "Women on the Outside: Understanding the Experiences of Female Prisoners Returning to Houston, Texas," and "One Year Out: Tracking the Experiences of Male Prisoners Returning to Houston Texas." They were written by Nancy G. LaVigne, Diana Brazzell, Lisa E. Brooks, Sara S. Debus, and Tracey L. Schollenberger and are the culmination of four years of research in the Houston metropolitan area.

The Texas research is part of Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry, a multi-state longitudinal study led by the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center. The JEHT Foundation, the Houston Endowment, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice supported the research.

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation. It provides information, analyses, and perspectives to public and private decisionmakers to help them address these problems and strives to deepen citizens' understanding of the issues and tradeoffs that policymakers face.

Topics/Tags: | Crime/Justice

Usage and reprints: Most publications may be downloaded free of charge from the web site and may be used and copies made for research, academic, policy or other non-commercial purposes. Proper attribution is required. Posting UI research papers on other websites is permitted subject to prior approval from the Urban Institute—contact publicaffairs@urban.org.

If you are unable to access or print the PDF document please contact us or call the Publications Office at (202) 261-5687.

Disclaimer: The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Copyright of the written materials contained within the Urban Institute website is owned or controlled by the Urban Institute.

Email this Page