This document describes a pilot project implemented by the Indianapolis Violence Reduction Partnership to assess the success of applying problem solving approaches to issues of inmate re-entry.
From 1990 to 2000 the number of former prisoners released annually from U.S. prisons increased from 400,000 to 600,000. Research has found that about two-thirds of released inmates will re-offend within 3 years of release. This high rate of re-offending poses public safety problems for communities and neighborhoods as well as a loss in human capital for the former inmates and their families. Marion County, IN, the State’s largest urban center, experiences a large number of former inmates returning to the community. The Indianapolis Violence Reduction Partnership (IVRP) decided to employ a problem solving approach to the issue of inmate re-entry. The project began with an analysis of the re-entry population that included a profile of prison releases during 2000, a survival analysis of a sample of inmates, and interviews and focus groups with recently released inmates and service providers experienced in working with former inmates. The analysis indicated that 40 percent of former inmates were arrested within 1 year of release, and younger inmates and those with extensive criminal histories were at higher risk for re-offending, as were African-American inmates. In addition, both inmates and service providers described a common set of barriers to successful re-entry including housing, substance abuse, negative peer influences, and anxiety of not “making it.” These findings led the IVRP to implement a pilot project that consisted of having recently released inmates attend a neighborhood-based group meeting convened by criminal justice officials and including community representatives and service providers. The meetings were based on the notion of combining deterrence and social support. The pilot project was evaluated using a quasi-experimental design. The treatment group consisted of 93 former inmates who attended 1 of 5 meetings, while the comparison group consisted of 107 former inmates released at the same time period as the treatment group but in a different neighborhood. The meetings were rotated geographically throughout the city so both treatment and comparison groups were drawn from the three targeted areas. The meetings were well received by neighborhood representatives, service providers, criminal justice officials, and the inmates. The analysis, however, failed to detect a measurable effect on future offending. During the follow-up period that ranged from 10 to 24 months, approximately 40 percent of both the treatment and the control groups were re-arrested. Analysis showed that the treatment group survived longer (average = 172 days) than did the comparison group (average = 120 days) before being re-arrested. In addition, the treatment group was also less likely to be re-arrested for a person offense. These differences did not prove statistically significant in the survival analysis. The findings from this study are consistent the limited prior research which indicates that former inmates are at a high risk of re-offending and pose difficult challenges for criminal justice officials and communities. These findings translate into significant costs for the community, the criminal justice system, and for the former inmates and their families. One policy implication is that investments in initiatives that would actually reduce re-offending by returning inmates would likely yield significant savings in terms of the costs of crime associated with these individuals. Study limitations are discussed. Tables, figures, and references
Date Published: February 1, 2003