Can Housing People Released from Prison in a New Neighborhood Stem Recidivism?
Date:  06-08-2015

Study finds recidivism rate jumps when people released from prison end up in just a few disadvantaged communities
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that each week more than 10,000 people are released from prisons across the country. Two-thirds of these formerly incarcerated people will be arrested within three years. There is no small effort by federal, state and municipal agencies, as well as community organizations, to reduce recidivism rates in an effort to increase public safety, stabilize neighborhoods, and cut corrections budgets. The Atlantic magazine’s City Lab reports that a new study suggests that not releasing a large number of formerly incarcerated people into a just few large, disadvantaged city neighborhoods might reduce recidivism.

From City Lab:

“Within three years of their release, two-thirds of ex-prisoners in America are arrested again, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Many complex and interconnected factors explain these alarmingly high rates of recidivism. One of the most significant, according to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is whether or not the released prisoners lives in the same neighborhood as others parolees.

Here’s how David Kirk, sociology professor at the University of Oxford and author of the study, sums up his findings:

Put simply, the alarming rates of recidivism in the United States are partly a consequence of the fact that many individuals being released from prison ultimately reside in the same neighborhoods as other former felons. In America, the prison system releases 650,000 people back into society each year. A significant share of the released tend to cluster in a few, extremely disadvantagedn neighborhoods. It’s hard to test what would happen if these reentry patterns were different, but living conditions in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina gave Kirk that unique chance.

The disaster destroyed a lot of property, and in doing so, geographically redistributed the former-prisoner population. Instead of concentrating in the same places as they had before Katrina, ex-prisoners released after the storm spread out across new neighborhoods. Kirk compared the re-incarceration rates in neighborhoods that had seen a change in parolee concentration to ones that hadn’t, both before and after the hurricane. Here’s what he found:

The results of my analyses suggest the greater the concentration of ex-prisoners in a neighborhood, the greater the rate of subsequent recidivism. I find that concentrating former prisoners in the same neighborhoods leads to significantly higher recidivism rates than if ex-prisoners were more dispersed across neighborhoods. Dispersing parolees across neighborhoods means that, to some extent, incarceration and recidivism rates will also rise in neighborhoods that gain ex-prisoners. The graph below illustrates this point: for each additional parolee per 1,000 residents in a neighborhood, the rate of re-incarceration rises about 11 percent. But after controlling for other factors that come into play across neighborhoods, Kirk found that net recidivism still came down.” Read more.

Read the abstact of Kirk’s study Read Kirk’s Study here.

There has been some criticism of Kirk’s study. Former law enforcement officer and retired professor of criminal justice Howie Katz believes Kirk is naïve to think that other, less disadvantaged, communities would welcome people on parole into their neighborhoods and claims Kirk writes from a perspective of someone oblivious to the realities of reintegration.

Katz stated in the Pacovilla Correctional Blog:

“Here is a dose of reality. Most families of prison inmates live in lower-class neighborhoods, many of which are crime-infested. Other than a halfway house, the only residence usually available to a parolee is with family members. And even if you placed him in a sanitary crime-free environment among complete strangers, he would very likely drift back to his old neighborhood to be in familiar places with old friends, many of them also on parole or engaged in unlawful activities.” Read more.

Source: Offender Aid and Restoration of Arlington County , Inc.