The Role of Supportive Housing in Successful Reentry Outcomes for Disabled Prisoners

By Fontaine, Jocelyn | Cityscape, September 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Role of Supportive Housing in Successful Reentry Outcomes for Disabled Prisoners


Fontaine, Jocelyn, Cityscape


Abstract

This article discusses the impact of a permanent supportive housing reentry program, Returning Home-Ohio, designed and implemented by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and a nonprofit housing advocacy agency. The program provided supportive housing to individuals who had behavioral health disabilities and who had histories of housing instability or were at risk for housing instability as they were released from 13 state prisons to five Ohio cities. Employing a quasi-experimental design with propensity score weights, the evaluation found that the supportive housing program was associated with recidivism reductions-as measured by rearrests and reincarcerations within 1 year of release. Additional analyses focused on the effects on rearrest outcomes of demographic characteristics and aspects of the supportive housing program received. Several demographic variables, including specific mental health disorders, were significantly associated with recidivism. This article discusses the implications of the findings, particularly for reentry and housing practitioners looking to implement similar programming.

Introduction

Various studies have documented the challenges individuals face in attempting to find stable and secure permanent housing on release from prison. Released prisoners have difficulty locating and affording available, independent housing in their communities for myriad reasons, including (1) incomes and work histories insufficient to rent and maintain independent housing, (2) formal policies inhibiting their ability to secure public housing, (3) long waiting lists for public housing, and (4) resistance by landlords to rent to them (see Fontaine and Biess, 2012; Roman and Travis, 2004, for a review). For these reasons, among others, incarceration places individuals at high risk of residential instability on release from prison or jail (Geller and Curtis, 2011)-leading a small share to enter emergency shelters immediately on release (Metraux, Roman, and Cho, 2008; Metraux and Culhane, 2006, 2004). Residential instability, including homelessness and frequent moves, has also been documented in the months after release from prison, in part because the postrelease housing many former prisoners arrange before release is often only temporary (Visher and Farrell, 2005; Visher, Yahner, and La Vigne, 2010).

Most former prisoners live with family members or friends immediately upon release (La Vigne, Visher, and Castro, 2004; Visher, Baer, and Naser, 2006; Visher and Courtney, 2007; Visher, La Vigne, and Farrell, 2003), which may or may not be suitable to their longer term reentry plans or goals. Indeed, many of the family members with whom former prisoners live struggle with limited incomes and limited employment histories, and they occasionally have their own service needs and criminal justice issues with which to contend (Brooks et al., 2008; Fontaine, Gilchrist-Scott, and Denver, 2011; Visher and Courtney, 2006). Perhaps for these reasons, research shows that many former prisoners would prefer to have their own housing, believing that residential stability and housing will assist them in their reentry goals (Visher and Farrell, 2005). Recent research by Kirk (2012, 2009) suggests that individuals who move away from their former neighborhoods are more successful in refraining from future criminal activity, perhaps because these moves assist individuals in distancing themselves from their former criminogenic environments and networks.

Despite the volume of literature documenting the housing challenge for former prisoners and the potential for independent, permanent housing to reduce criminal activity, scant empirical evidence indicates that permanent housing, in and of itself, leads to better reentry outcomes. Housing theoretically could be used as a platform or pathway toward successful reentry outcomes-including reductions in recidivism, among other outcomes (Fontaine and Biess, 2012). …

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