Thursday, August 7, 2014
Many taxpayers may not be enthusiastic about their dollars being used to ameliorate the housing problems of former inmates, but recent research suggests that the benefits of doing so could be significant. As Christopher Moraff noted in a recent post at The Crime Report:
[Washington State Univeristy professor Faith] Lutze and a team of researchers recently completed a comprehensive assessment of a Washington State program that aims to reduce recidivism by providing high-risk offenders with 12 months of housing support when they are released from prison.
The study tracked 208 participants in three counties and found statistically significant reductions in new offenses and readmission to prison. It also found lower levels of parole revocations among participants. While housing is the immediate goal of the program, the Re-Entry Housing Pilot Program (RHPP) operates in concert with the Department of Corrections’ Community Justice Centers to provide a range of reentry support services.
Participants live in heavily subsidized apartments, often with roommates, and are required to engage in treatment, secure employment and work toward self-sustainability. Lutze says stable housing not only reduces violations of public order laws related to living and working on the street, but it increases exposure to pro-social networks and provides a sense of safety and well-being conducive to participating in treatment and other services.
That not only improves community safety, she says, but it “reduces the economic and human costs of ex-offenders cycling through our jails and prisons just because they do not have a safe place to live.” While this seems like a common-sense strategy, programs that place housing at the forefront of prisoner reentry are actually relatively scarce in the U.S., and have historically been driven by a handful of pioneering non-profits.
Since the 1990s, the New York-based Fortune Society has graduated hundreds of ex-offenders from its transitional housing facility in West Harlem, known as “The Castle.” The program has been so successful — with recidivism rates as low as one percent — that the group received city support to open a second facility, Castle Gardens, in 2010.
A similar program run by the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco, offers housing and support services to drug addicts, many of them ex-offenders, in six cities.
For all their success, access to these programs is limited, and demand regularly exceeds supply.