Reentry In Focus
Annually, approximately 730,000 Federal and state prisoners return to communities and over 9 million pass through local jails. For people held in state and federal prisons, the path to stability can be long and challenging. Beyond the employment barriers and stigma related to a criminal conviction, many do not have a stable home or a family support system when released. These individuals are far more likely to become homeless in the days and weeks after release. Residing in shelters rather than a more stable environment has shown to increase the risk of re-incarceration. There is also a subset of individuals in the nation’s prisons and jails that cycle between the criminal justice system and homelessness that incur high costs to themselves and public systems. These “frequent users” often incur the highest costs to local jails and prison systems and are often low-risk offenders (e.g. those charged with trespassing, public intoxication, small theft, non-felony drug charges): their cycling through these systems is often a symptom of larger health, mental health, and/or housing-related problems. As noted by an intensive study in a Florida jail, nearly 80 percent of these individuals were transient or homeless at the time of arrest, and have high rates of substance abuse and mental illness histories.
The good news is there are solutions, especially for those with high-needs upon reentry who are at a severe risk of homelessness. Permanent supportive housing using a Housing First approach is a cost-effective solution for those experiencing or at most risk of chronic homelessness. Comprehensive reentry planning is key to ensure that individuals released are connected to housing, health, and mainstream resources. This planning involves working with the corrections system, service providers, and housing providers before an individual is released. Collaboration and coordination is pivotal to the success of the reentry plan and assisting individuals in navigating the many public and nonprofit support systems.
Opening Doors’ Objective 9 is to “advance health and housing stability for people experiencing homelessness who have frequent contact with hospitals and criminal justice.” Focusing on this high-risk population not only gets us closer to our goals in Opening Doors, it also offsets costs that can instead be invested in long-term solutions like affordable and supportive housing and mental and physical health care for those most in need. Programs at the Department of Justice, Department of Labor and Department of Veterans Affairs specifically work to reintegrate people who have been incarcerated and help them on a path towards safe, stable, and successful lives. Through the Second Chance Act, more communities are now implementing programs that work on reentry planning and long- term support that help prevent and end homelessness in their communities. In this newsletter we share our discussions with leaders among our federal partners and at the local level who are serving this population with innovative and comprehensive programs. Implementing comprehensive and culturally competent solutions for people who have formerly been incarcerated and frequent users of jails and prisons is not only cost-effective, it saves lives.
The articles below detail what is being done among federal agencies to improve reentry and a profile of one organization in New York City that has implemented successful reentry programs in its community.
Program Profile: The Fortune Society
Homepage photo courtesy of CSH