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Family Support Is Key to Staying Out of Prison, Say Ex-Offenders in Chicago

Document date: December 08, 2004
Released online: December 08, 2004

Contact: Latricia Good, (202) 261-5709, [email protected]

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 8, 2004—Family relationships can make or break prisoners' successful return to society, say ex-offenders trying to reestablish themselves in Chicago.

Seventy-one percent of the former prisoners in a new Urban Institute study cited family support as important in helping them avoid going back to prison. Indicative of that support, four to eight months after leaving prison, 88 percent of those interviewed were living with family and 59 percent were receiving financial help from a spouse, family, or friends.

Conversely, the study shows that negative family relationships can pose risks for released prisoners navigating the many challenges of reentry. Twelve percent reported having been physically abused or threatened by a family or household member in the six months before entering prison, and those who had been abused were more likely to end up back in prison after their release.

The study is part of an in-depth look at how former convicts in Illinois fare after prison and what types of help can lead to lower reincarceration rates. Researchers are following a group of prisoners released in 2002 and 2003.

"Under the best of circumstances, the transition from prison to home is a struggle," says Nancy La Vigne, a principal research associate with the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center and coauthor of the study with Christy Visher and Jennifer Castro. "Generally, those who make the adjustment with the support of their families are more likely to succeed, suggesting that the careful involvement of families in the reentry process can boost the chances of positive outcomes."

The first phase of the Urban Institute's research analyzed where former Illinois prisoners settle after release and found that many returned to a handful of hard-pressed Chicago neighborhoods. The second phase focused on prisoners' expectations for life after prison and found that most were confident they would succeed. The third phase—"Chicago Prisoners' Experiences Returning Home"—followed 205 men who returned to Chicago, examining factors that may help or hinder successful reintegration, including employment, substance use, attitudes and beliefs, health status, criminal histories, and family and community contexts.

About the Former Prisoners

Eighty-seven percent of those interviewed had at least one prior conviction and 75 percent had served time in prison before. Twenty-two percent were convicted of a new crime within 11 months of release (but not necessarily sent back to prison) and 31 percent were returned to prison within 13 months on a new sentence or for violating parole. Released prisoners who were not reconvicted or reincarcerated had fewer prior convictions; were less likely to have been threatened or hurt by a family member; were less likely to have used drugs or been intoxicated after release; and were more likely after release to have a photo ID, to be depressed, to be employed, and to believe they lived in a safe neighborhood where it was not hard to stay out of trouble.

A Rough Return

When interviewed four to eight months after their release,

  • 30 percent of the respondents were employed and 44 percent had worked for at least one week. Their average pay was $9 an hour.
  • the number of weeks worked was significantly higher for those who had a job before prison, had a work-release job during prison, had a spouse or girlfriend, or had not used drugs or been intoxicated after release.
  • 77 percent of the unemployed respondents relied on income from spouses, family, and friends, and 31 percent received public assistance, compared with 17 percent and 18 percent, respectively, of their employed counterparts.
  • 45 percent were not residing where they had lived before prison, either because they were trying to avoid trouble in old neighborhoods or because their families had moved.
  • 81 percent lacked health care coverage. Twenty-eight percent reported suffering from chronic physical health conditions, 10 percent showed symptoms of depression, and 4 percent had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder related to incarceration.
  • 48 percent said they had no close friends. Of those with close friends, 40 percent said one or more friends had been in prison and 22 percent said a friend sold drugs.

"Returning Home" Project

"Chicago Prisoners' Experiences Returning Home" is part of "Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry," a multistate research initiative exploring ways to improve reentry outcomes for individuals, families, and communities. The Illinois research has been supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Woods Fund of Chicago, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

"Chicago Prisoners' Experiences Returning Home," by Nancy La Vigne, Christy Visher, and Jennifer Castro, is available to reporters at http://www.urban.org/url.cfm?ID=311115. It is the latest product of the Urban Institute's ongoing research on crime and justice issues. For more on this subject, go to http://urban.org/r/crime.cfm.

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation.

Topics/Tags: | Crime/Justice | Employment | Health/Healthcare | Housing

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